The Sony Choice Collection has rescued another long forgotten TV movie from obscurity and released it as a burn-to-order title. "Kiss Me...Kill Me" is a crime thriller that was originally telecast in 1976. Compared to similar fare from that era, the film is fairly routine, though it might well be more appreciated today than it was at the time of its original airing. This is due to the fact that it boasts a strong cast of seasoned veteran actors- something that was relatively common in the 1970s, when the concept of TV movies became very popular. Most of these productions had star power and audiences enjoyed seeing some of their favorite movie stars on the small screen. "Kiss Me...Kill Me" stars Stella Stevens as Stella Stafford, an L.A-based investigator for the District Attorney's office. She is assigned to an especially disturbing murder case involving Maureen Coyle (Tisha Sterling), a respected young woman who teaches at a school for handicapped children. Maureen suffers from a disability herself: she has a leg disorder that causes her to walk with a limp. When she is discovered murdered in her apartment, the D.A.'s office is put under pressure to find the culprit behind the especially gruesome killing. Stella is assigned to work the case with veteran detective Harry Grant (Claude Akins). The two are old friends- and perhaps more. They interact with intimate familiarity and socialize at Stella's apartment. Harry's career has been in decline and views this case as a way of re-establishing his reputation. Before long, he has his first suspect: Edward Fuller (Robert Vaughn), an elitist owner of a major advertising agency who was seen lurking around Maureen's apartment building prior to the murder. Under questioning, he is less than co-operative and can't provide a logical reason for his being there in the dead of night. In looking into Maureen's personal life, a shocking secret emerges. Turns out she enjoyed kinky, rough sex and was known to frequent a seedy bar trolling for one night stands. Ultimately, Harry finds another suspect: a young black man named Hicks (Charles Weldon) who admits to having bedded Maureen. Harry's strong-armed tactics results in the down-and-out Hicks eventually confessing to the killing but Stella suspects he is not the real killer. This puts her at odds with Harry, who accuses her of sabotaging his case by continuing the investigation beyond Hicks, who she feels was coerced into confessing. Ultimately, the trail leads to Douglas Lane (Bruce Boxleitner), an arrogant young hunk who was using Fuller as a sugar daddy. Fuller is clearly infatuated with Lane and tries to buy his love and respect but all he gets is public humiliation. Stella becomes convinced that Lane is the real killer but trying to prove it could cost her her own life.
"Kiss Me...Kill Me" is rather provocative for a TV movie from this period, though overt discussion of S&M sex and gay relationships have to be hinted at rather than explicitly discussed. The film contains some rather routine chase scenes and action sequences but the script is more successful in regard to presenting some interesting characters and developing their relationships. The tensions between Stella and Harry boil over to the breaking point and there is good on-screen chemistry between Stella Stevens and Claude Akins, one of cinema's best "second bananas" who gets a rare leading man role here. It's also interesting to note that Stevens is the real star of this movie in an era when actresses were breaking the glass ceiling and emerging as popular action stars. (Think "Police Woman", "Wonder Woman" and "Charlie's Angels", all of which came about within a couple of years of each other.) The best performance is by Robert Vaughn, who boldly discards his image at a suave ladies man to play a weak, vulnerable aging gay man. In one scene he is publicly humiliated by the bisexual object of his affection and instead of going Napoleon Solo on the guy, Vaughn's character meekly endures the shame. It's a cringe-inducing scene that makes you feel sympathy for a character who is not very sympathetic. The are some other veteran actors in the flick, which helps elevate its status. They include Michael Anderson Jr, Dabney Coleman, Steve Franken and even Pat O'Brien as an elderly, wise-cracking morgue worker. In all, a rather enjoyable visit back in time to the glorious era of '70s TV movies. Let's hope Sony keeps making these long-unseen productions available.
The transfer is excellent but the release, unsurprisingly, has no extras.
a sucker for military movies. I’ve enjoyed the genre since I was a kid and that
pleasure continues to this day. As a former military guy, it matters very
little to me the time period or whether the movie is attempting to present a
message as long as the story is good and holds my interest. Director Tom Jeffrey's “The Odd Angry
Shot” is a military movie about the Vietnam War which certainly held my
interest and with great enthusiasm.
see the Vietnam War as America going it alone and for the most part that’s true
in terms of troops sent and the high cost. Almost forgotten now and little
discussed at the time is that there was an alliance between South Vietnam and
America which included South Korea, Thailand, Laos, Taiwan, Philippines, Iran,
West German, Spain, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
is among the members of this alliance to send troops to Vietnam and “The Odd
Angry Shot” is about a fictional deployment of Australians in the late 1960s.
The movie is based on the novella of the same name by William R. Nagel who
served as a cook in the Australian Army and deployed to Vietnam. He was a keen
observer during his time in Vietnam and created an award winning story of
movie is notable as one of the earliest movies to deal directly with combat
during the Vietnam War and specifically the soldiers of the Australian Army.
Sets for the movie were built on the Sydney Showgrounds in Sydney, New South
Wales, and later transported to the Australian Army’s Jungle Warfare Training
Center in Canungra, Queensland. This is where those serving in the Australian
Army trained before deploying to Vietnam.
movie is in a different category from Vietnam movies like “Apocalypse Now,” “The
Deer Hunter” and “Platoon” which take their subject very seriously and have
much to say about the war. The movie isn’t quite a comedy or even dark comedy,
but the tone is unusual compared to most movies about this war. “The Odd Angry
Shot” is a more light-hearted and even snarkier than those movies and resembles
“M*A*S*H” with a bit of “Catch-22.” Its focus is a group of men as we follow
them from pre-deployment at home in Australia to engaging the enemy in Vietnam.
When not out on patrols, where some receive the literal odd angry shot, they
deal with the inevitable boredom of deployments with beer drinking, writing
home to family, receiving “Dear John” letters, joking around, friendly brawls
and passing the time with a scorpion/spider fight.
movie features a mostly Australian cast, some of them recognizable as character
actors in Australian movies made over the past 35-years. John Jarratt plays the
central character, Bill, and has appeared in a wide variety of mostly
Australian productions from “Picnic at Hanging Rock” to the recent “Django
Unchained.” Probably the biggest name outside of Australia is Bryan Brown as
Rogers in one of many fine performances. Fans of “Mad Max” will recognize Tim
Burns in a “blink or you’ll miss him” part as a birthday party guest at the
beginning of “The Odd Angry Shot.” He was memorable as Johnny the Boy in “Mad Max,”
the guy faced with sawing off his own foot at the end of that movie.
Blu-ray includes a nice pile of extras including the trailer, an interview with
stunt man Buddy Joe Hooker and one of the better audio commentary tracks I’ve
listened to in a while with director Tom Jeffrey, producer Sue Milliken and
actor Graeme Blundell. It’s entertaining and the contributors are enjoying
their time discussing and reminiscing about their work on the movie.
movie looks terrific and sounds great. Regardless of your personal feelings of
the Vietnam War, this movie is an outstanding addition to any war movie
collection or fan of Australian cinema and certainly worthy of repeat viewings.
There are those who consider the Peter Sellers/Blake Edwards 1968 collaboration "The Party" to be an underrated comedy classic, while others feel it is a complete misfire. Count me among the latter. I can appreciate the audacity of making a minimalist comedy that was largely designed to be improvised- but there lies the rub. Sellers and Edwards succeeded in their quest to make this experimental film based on a threadbare script (60 pages) but the movie has a patchwork, almost desperate feel about how to fill up 99 minutes of screen time with what amounts to approximately 15 minutes of inspired material. Sellers is in top form, performance-wise, playing Hrudni V. Bakshi, an almost surrealistically polite Indian actor who we first see playing the title role in a big budget remake of "Gunga Din". With millions of dollars on the line, it's up to Bakshi to carry off his pivotal death scene so that a massive explosion can be detonated that will destroy an expensive set. In the film's funniest scenes, Bakshi drives the director crazy by screwing up even the simplest of tasks and prolonging his death scene for an absurd period of time. Then, carrying through on the age-old "Ready when you are, C.B" joke, he inadvertently ends up detonating the explosives and destroying the set before the cameras are rolling. Bakshi is immediately fired and his name is added to a studio blacklist so that he will never be hired again. Through a slight error, however, the studio boss, Fred Clutterbuck (J. Edward McKinley) mistakenly assigns his name to the invitation list of a party he is holding at his posh L.A. home. Thinking he has been forgiven for his costly mishaps, Bakshi is all too happy to attend the party, where the Hollywood "A" list crowd will be assembled.
Things start off promisingly as Sellers' ability for clever improvisation pays off. His initial Maxwell Smart-like bumblings are low-key enough to be believable. He mingles with the ever-growing crowd of snobbish party-goers and makes the acquaintance of a beautiful actress, Michele Monet (Claudine Longet), who is constantly being sexually harassed by her date, a hyper-mode, chauvinistic studio executive, C.S. Divot (Gavin MacLeod) who becomes increasingly desperate to bed her right there in the house where the party is taking place. For reasons never explained-and which defy credibility- she finds herself smitten by the innocent Bakshi and the two flirt, much to the consternation of Divot, who is the executive who fired Bakshi only the day before. In another strained plot device, he fails to recognize the same bumbling man he chastised and fired. The film traces Bakshi's increasingly disastrous mishaps at the party, which become more surrealistic with every passing minute. Comic actor Steve Franken appears as a tuxedo-clad waiter who walks about serving champagne on a tray but who has a nasty habit of taking liberal gulps of the bubbly himself. Edwards features the character in interminable amounts of footage, as the waiter becomes increasingly drunk. Although the scenes are skillfully played by Franken, the one-note joke becomes another repetitious absurdity. By the end of the film Edwards pulls the plug on any semblance of sanity and resorts to pure chaos. The midst of over-flowing toilets, sexual escapades, overbearing kids and their drill instructor-like nanny (a woefully underutilized Jean Carson), Edwards centers the action on a large swimming pool where, inexplicably, the household teenagers arrive with their hippie friends and a baby elephant (!) in tow, though it is never explained how suburban kids get their hands on a baby elephant. Then the pool is submerged in a never-ending sea of soap bubbles as everyone parties with the semi-submerged elephant. Keeping in mind that the film was released at the dawn of the hippie era, every major studio tried desperately to tap into the youth market, Blake Edwards included. Devoid of any meaningful concept of how to end the movie, he obviously decided that if he put in blaring music and a bunch of drunken or drug-induced party goers, the psychedelic imagery would mask the lack of genuine comedic content. The epilogue of the movie finds Bakshi mercifully back in real life, but driving a vintage 1930s three wheel classic British sports car by the Morgan Motor Company. (The car's appearance in the film became somewhat iconic.) He pays a visit to Michele's apartment and it becomes clear the two will form an unlikely romance.
Despite my reservations about "The Party", I can heartily recommend the new Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. The first reason is because there are many people who seem to think this film is terrific and the opinion of this reviewer is definitely in the minority. The second reason is the quality of the Blu-ray itself, which does justice to one of the film's greatest assets, its creative production design by Fernardo Carrera. The transfer looks great and the colors practically leap out of the screen. Over a decade ago, MGM, which initially released the film on DVD, commissioned extras to be shot for inclusion in a special edition of "The Party". For reasons unknown, those extras were never released in the United States but were included on a UK DVD release. Why MGM didn't feel the extras were worth including in the North American market is a mystery because they feature extensive insights from Blake Edwards and other cast and crew members. Fortunately, Kino Lorber managed to rescue some of these bonus extras for inclusion on this release. One featurette details the over-all making of the film, while another is particularly fascinating, as it points out how this movie marked the first time that a video assist technique was employed on a major studio film. The innovation involved attaching a video camera to the main 35mm camera, thus allowing Edwards to view what he had just shot instead of having to wait for the dailies. It was a refinement of a technique that Jerry Lewis had been experimenting with for years. Edwards realized this would change how films were shot and at one point ended up buying the rights to the technology before relinquishing them back to the inventor, who by this point, had found a way to build a video camera inside the 35mm camera. Edwards states that he simply didn't have time to run the company while in the middle of making films, though he acknowledges that his decision probably cost him a small fortune in future profits. The Blu-ray also includes the original trailer and career over-views of Edwards and producers Walter Mirisch and Ken Wales.
So there you have it: a rare case where I can't recommend the main feature but enthusiastically recommend the Blu-ray special edition.
A long time ago in our own galaxy, major American television networks once aspired to raise the quality of the medium through the presentation of prestigious TV movies and mini-series. The trend began in earnest in the 1970s and continued through the next decade before a new generation of executives decided to dumb down the quality in favor of sensationalism. Ironically we are living in what many consider to be a new "Golden Age" of television- but the caveat is that most of the good stuff requires viewers to pay to view it through HBO, Showtime, Amazon Prime and Netflix. American network "free" TV is pretty much worth what we're paying for it with an endless array of smutty sitcoms, various "reality" shows that star real-life miscreants and a largely indistinguishable batch of urban cop shows that have so exhausted the premise that I expect CBS to announce "NCIS: Mayberry" as a new series. Add to this the interminable number of commercials and you have a medium that is self-destructing before our eyes. Even if you can become engrossed in a mystery show, the mood is rather negated by seeing countless ads for male sexual stimulants coupled with warnings that a dangerous side effect might be a four hour erection. (I have yet to meet a middle aged male who wouldn't welcome this particular "ailment".) Yet we still have visual records of the glory days of American television and that includes the availability on DVD of many high quality TV productions that were known as the "Movie of the Week". All three major networks sank a lot of money into these ventures and attracted top names to star in them. The format also afforded many aspiring young talents behind the cameras to emerge in prominence, the most notably Steven Spielberg', whose 1971 TV thriller "Duel" remains a timeless classic.
The Warner Archive has released the 1973 TV movie "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" as a burn-to-order title. The film was originally telecast in 1973, an era when some fine work was being done in the realm of the horror genre. (Both "Don't Look Now" and "The Exorcist" were released theatrically that year.) Kim Darby gives a fine performance as Sally Farnham, a young wife who has inherited a large, old world house that had once belonged to her grandparents. She moves in with her husband Alex (Jim Hutton), an up-and-coming executive whose workaholic ways causes some occasional tension in the marriage (this being an era in which the standard role for women was to keep the house tidy until her hubby came home.) The couple begins a vigorous and ambitious redecorating project and hire an interior designer (Pedro Armendariz Jr.) to redo most of the rooms. Things go well enough initially but when Sally pokes around a long-neglected study she ponders why the fireplace has been bricked up to make it as secure as a bank vault. Mr. Harris (William Demarest), a long-time handyman who worked for Sally's grandparents, informs her that he bricked up the fireplace at the insistence of her grandfather. Without telling her precisely why, he advises her to leave well enough alone and not pursue plans to make the fireplace operational. In true horror movie tradition, she instantly ignores his advice and breaks through part of the brickwork, opening a vent to a seemingly bottomless drop below. Before you can say "Vincent Price!", strange things start happening. Sally feels as though she is being watched and she hears eerie voices whispering throughout the house. In another tried-and-true horror movie tradition, her husband instantly dismisses her concerns- even when she realizes her imagination isn't playing tricks on her.
From almost the very beginning of the film, director John Newland lets the viewer in on the fact that the house is indeed haunted, though her forestalls showing us the intruders. Instead, we hear them whisper and giggle among themselves as they celebrate being free to roam the house. They know Sally by name and make it clear that they intend to steal her soul and make her one of them. The action picks up when Sally and Alex host a prestigious dinner party for his business contacts. The party goes disastrously off course when Sally catches her first glimpse of who is menacing her. It is a gnome-like little creature that stands about one foot tall and he is perched directly beneath her at the dinner table. She screams in panic and of course the creature slips away before anyone else can see him, leading Alex to chastise her later for ruining a perfectly good dinner party. She is later menaced by the creatures while she is in the shower (another horror movie tradition). This is followed by what appears to be the accidental death of visitor to the house, but Sally knows it was murder caused by the gnome creatures. With Alex leaving on a business trip, Sally does defy one horror film tradition by vowing to get the hell out of the house instead of staying around to see what happens next. Before she can leave, however, the little devils manage to incapacitate her with a sleeping pill. Only the presence of her friend Joan (Barbara Anderson) prevents them from taking her into their lair beneath the house. Joan begins to believe that everything Sally has feared is actually true and in a tense climax, the house is plunged into darkness and Joan races against time to save her friend from an unthinkable fate.
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" has built a loyal following over the decades after it's sensational initial telecast in 1973. The film is extremely well-made and intelligently scripted by Nigel McKeand. Darby and Hutton offer some real star power and William Demarest, who was primarily known for playing cranky old guys in comedies, is well-cast in a highly dramatic role that he carries off very effectively. Director Newland, an old hand at supernatural tales (he hosted the TV series "One Step Beyond") might have milked more suspense from the script by never actually showing the creatures that menace Sally. However, given the fact that he chose to do so, it must be said they are genuinely creepy. The special effects are all the more impressive given the fact that the film was made in the pre-CGI era. The cackling little demons sound like Munchkins but there's nothing cute about them. Thanks to some very good makeup effects, they provide some memorably chilling images.
The Warner Archive edition contains a bonus audio commentary track with horror movie screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick ("Final Destination", "Day of the Dead") and film historians Steve "Uncle Creepy" Barton and Sean Abley. The three are definitely in full "Mystery Science Theatre" mode, joking and mocking various aspects of the production. They pounce on the casting, saying that Darby looks like Jim Hutton's daughter instead of his wife and take some very funny potshots at the awful '70s styles Darby is seen sauntering around in. (They refer to her wardrobe as a form of birth control.) Just when their sarcasm about the film seems to be going into the realm of disrespect, they make it clear that they very much admire the film as a whole and appropriately commend key aspects of the production. Their commentary is consistently insightful when discussing its place within the horror genre but at least two of them seem a bit ignorant of movie history in general, as evidenced by the fact they have no idea that Jim Hutton was a major star in the 1960s and 1970s. One of the commentators does at least know that "he's Timothy Hutton's father". In all, the commentary track is a very nice bonus feature one would not readily expect to find on a title such as this.
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is a bit dated in concept and execution but it stands light years ahead of most of the gore-drenched "dead teenager" movies that define the horror genre today, as evidenced by the lackluster response accorded to the 2010 big screen remake.
Vinegar Syndrome has released a limited edition (1,500 units) dual format edition of the 1978 adult movie hit "Pretty Peaches" by director Alex deRenzy, who was perhaps the most prolific director the medium had ever seen. deRenzy didn't crank out cheapo grind house movies. Instead, he tried to incorporate relatively high production values, often shooting in outdoor locations. He also had an eye for attracting some of the most exotic actresses of the era. "Pretty Peaches" is one of deRenzy's most notable achievements. The movie introduced Desiree Costeau, who would go on to be a legendary name in erotic cinema. deRenzy made hardcore movies with some substance and style and this title is no exception. The plot finds the title character, Peaches (Costeau), an amiable but air-headed young beauty, racing along in her jeep in a hurry to get to Virginia City, Nevada, in the hopes of attending her father's civil wedding ceremony to his second wife, a young black woman with an insatiable sexual appetite. Peaches arrives just in the nick of time for the ceremony but after making some small talk with her father, she speeds off again in her jeep en route to San Francisco. Along the way, her jeep goes off the road and she is knocked unconscious. Two young men race to her assistance but, upon examining the scantily-clad Peaches, become sexually aroused. One of them goes so far as to violate her while she is still unconscious. When she finally awakes, she has complete amnesia. The men use this to their advantage by convincing her that they own the jeep and offer her a ride to San Francisco, where they coincidentally share an apartment. Peaches goes along but is troubled by the fact that she can't recall her name or anything about her background. While in the big city she tries to find professional help but ends up receiving treatment from a mad, sex-crazed doctor whose "therapy" consists of inducing enemas! She doesn't fare much better when she applies for a job as an exotic dancer and ends up being violated by a gang of lesbians. Peaches is also uncomfortable living with her two male companions, who have a steady stream of loose women over to the apartment who they bed down without any regard for privacy concerns. Ultimately, she meets a handsome, kindly psychiatrist who offers to help her if she drops by his house that evening. Naturally, this offer isn't what it seems, either, and Peaches ends up in a major orgy where her memory is jolted back in an unpleasant way when she sees her own father (!) participating in the goings-on.
"Pretty Peaches" is very much from the school of 1970s erotica that blended slapstick comedy with hardcore sex. As the title character, Desiree Costeau is quite a find- at least in terms of her physical qualifications. She also gives an amusing performance, though it's doubtful Katharine Hepburn lost much sleep about her entry into the acting profession. The film is populated with other mainstays of the adult film industry of that time period including John Leslie, Joey Silvera and Paul Thomas. Juliet Anderson (aka "Aunt Peg") also makes her screen debut in this flick playing an assertive maid who ends up in a threesome with Peaches' dad and his new bride. Director deRenzy has good instincts when it comes to turning down the comedy elements when the action gets hot and he does provide some genuinely erotic sequences- but in the aggregate, the film will probably appeal most to those who like to mix laughs with their salacious cinematic thrills.
The Vinegar Syndrome transfer is just about perfect, having been remastered from a 35mm source print. Chances are the film looks better today than it did on the big screen. The release contains some special features including three trailers for other deRenzy films and an interview with film historian Ted Mcilvenna, who knew deRenzy since the 1960s. Mcilvenna was a social activist in San Francisco who was fighting for sexual freedom and crusaded against the archaic laws in Britain that criminalized homosexuality until 1967. he relates how deRenzy was so prolific in his work that he once discovered 19 completed feature films in his archive that the director had not gotten around to editing. There is also a rare interview with deRenzy himself, shot on VHS tape shortly before his death in 2001. Vinegar Syndrome believes this is the only known filmed interview with deRenzy.
Director/screenwriter Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" has been released by Sony as a dual format Blu-ray/DVD package that also includes a digital edition of the film. The film lives up to the almost unanimous acclaim it has received since it opened last year. It is also a front-runner for this year's Best Picture Oscar. What Linklater did was nothing short of historic: filming the same story in real time with the same actors over a twelve year period. The audaciousness of the project makes the mind reel, in terms of the physical logistics alone. Linklater had to shoot around his actor's other filming schedules, ensure that the production funds wouldn't dry up and work with an ever-revolving crew in varying locations throughout Texas. To be fair, director Michael Apted's historic "Up!" series has been filming updates every seven years for his series that has traced the lives of schoolchildren he first met in 1964. However, Apted's amazing achievements are in relation to a documentary, while Linklater has crafted a fictional, big studio release.
The film traces the life of a young boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who we first meet as a toddler. The script, which is based on challenges Linklater experienced in his own childhood, allows us to witness Mason growing up on camera through his 18th birthday. There are plenty of speed bumps encountered along the way. When we first meet him and his sister Samantha (played by Linklater's own daughter Lorelei), the kids are already the product of a single mother household, his parents having split up shortly after he was born. Their mom (Patricia Arquette) and father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) have a fractured relationship. Seems dad has been less-than-attentive to his family's needs and disappeared for a year to Alaska for vague reasons. He's now back in their lives and hoping to establish a civil relationship with his ex. She's having none of it. With their father back in their lives, he tries hard to make up for his past negligence, taking them for weekend excursions and giving them the few luxuries he can afford: arcade games, bowling and fast food. However, the kids witness the emotionally shattering experience of seeing their mother and father fight whenever they are in each other's presence. (Note to divorced parents: even if you hate your ex, don't let your kids know it. They already have enough psychological trauma to deal with.) Meanwhile, mom is trying hard to improve her kid's lives but the results are not encouraging. She has to rely on her mom to watch the children while she tries to juggle going to work and attending night classes in order to get a college degree. (The film succeeds in providing a moving look at the plight of single parents.) An attractive woman, she has virtually no time for herself and nothing akin to a social life. Thus, she is vulnerable to any man who seems sincere. She goes through more failed relationships and marriages, all of which leave her growing children in a constant state of uncertainty. The family moves frequently, disrupting whatever stability the school system had provided to the kids. They constantly have to make new friends but when they do, relationships always prove to be temporary. With the passage of the years, dad remarries and fathers a baby with his new wife. The relationship between him and their mother becomes more accepting and cordial as the kids go through the normal cornerstone moments of their lives: grade school, high school and on to college. The fact that we are watching the actors age in real time adds profoundly to the emotional impact of the story.
"Boyhood" is so brilliantly realized as a cinematic concept that you forget you are watching a work of fiction. Most of the credit must go to Linklater, whose direction is superb and whose script is written the way people act and talk in real life. The characters are sincere, flawed people who find it hard to cope with the pressures of everyday life. The kid's father is an overage juvenile; their mom is a long-suffering woman who has gotten old before her time. Every time she thinks she has found a tiny sliver of happiness, it turns out to be an illusion. She gets her degree and begins teaching at a community college where she meets an established professor, Bill (Marco Perella), who is an affable, divorced dad with two kids the age of her own son and daughter. Things start off swimmingly but over time deteriorate as he falls victim to alcoholism and becomes physically abusive. The sequence in which their mother tries to extract from the house against the wishes of her threatening husband is a disturbing reminder of what so many women must deal with in real life. The film ends with Mason heading out on his own for college dorm life. By this point, we think we know him personally, having watched him mature through the years. As played by Ellar Coltrane, Mason is an admirable and polite, if not occasionally sullen, young man who is already somewhat cynical about life and who seeks to walk to his own drumbeat. The film ends on an optimistic note, which is appropriate after suffering along with him through so many years. Coltrane gives an assured, self-confident performance and he is more than matched by Lorelei Linkater as his sister. In fact, the performances of every actor in the film, right down to the minor supporting roles, are nothing less than superb. Linklater provides them with some sterling dialogue but the film does feature a couple of sequences that feel forced and out of place. They depict the kids assisting their dad in campaigning for Obama in the 2008 election. Nothing wrong with that, but he shoehorns a superfluous character into a brief scene to depict him as a right wing fanatic who implies he would shoot the kids if they ever stopped on his property again to campaign for "Barack Hussein Obama". The country certainly has no shortage of such lunatics but the scene is the only one that feels artificial because it implies an ugly generalization about anyone who didn't support Obama. (Linklater doesn't see the irony in the fact that, in another sequence, it is the dad who encourages his kids to illegally remove a campaign sign from the law of a John McCain supporter.) It's a minor quibble but the scenes risk alienating part of the audience for a film that, otherwise, is apolitical and speaks truth to people of all beliefs and backgrounds.
The video release is curiously short on bonus extras. There is only a featurette about the making of the film in which we are treated to behind the scenes footage of the cast throughout the years. There are also extensive interviews with Richard Linklater and the major cast members that have far more poignancy than those found in the usual "making of" production shorts. The featurette has a particularly moving moment when Linklater finally shoots the last scene for the film: a sequence in which Mason is driving to college on a remote desert highway, surrounded by stunning vistas. It's moving to watch Ellar Coltrane put the finishing touches on a project that had been part of virtually his entire life. The inclusion of this segment only makes us wish all the more than Linklater and his cast had provided a commentary track. Undoubtedly, this will be made available on a future "Super Duper Deluxe" release of the film. For now, however, this edition of "Boyhood" merits "must-see" status.
Warner Home Video has made good on its promise to rectify some glitches on its otherwise magnificent recent release of the entire "Batman" TV series. Two episodes were accidentally included that were incomplete. The "Marsha's Scheme of Diamonds" episode was missing its epilogue and the "Hi Diddle Riddle" episode lacked its opening narration. Additionally, some fans complained that Warner's did not include the very brief tags at the end of episodes that promoted who the villain would be in the next telecast. Anyone who purchased the set on either Blu-ray or DVD was invited to register for replacement discs, which have now been sent out. In addition to providing complete versions of the aforementioned episodes, the two new discs also have an extended bonus section featuring the previously missing "villains" promos. Additionally, Warner's has included a couple of brief but cool bonus segments that weren't included on the original release. These are a promotion advising viewers to tune in the for the next evenings broadcast to see the unveiling of some new additions to Batman and Robin's arsenal. These included the Batboat and the Batcycle. Another brief segment is a promo for a rebroadcast of the very first episode of the series.
For more on the "missing footage" advisory, click here for Warner's original press release.
"Sex is only dirty if you're doing it right."- Woody Allen
Well, "Fifty Shades of Grey" has finally opened and- predictably- it looks to be an international blockbuster. All over the world, BDSM ("Bondage, Discipline, Submission and Masochism", for the uninitiated) will be the flavor of the week as couples dabble in getting naughty. But the very notion that the real world of this peculiar sexual fetish could be accurately presented in a none-threatening, Harlequin romance-like manner is negated by the fact that the film is rated R and has been released by a major studio. True, there was a brief period of time when major movie studios did push the envelope in terms of depicting raw sexual freedoms. Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris" was made over forty years ago but would be considered un-releasable by the Hollywood suits who run the industry today. Even United Artists, which had the courage to distribute the X-rated sensation back in the day, tried to have it both ways by re-issuing the film a few years later in a "safe", R-rated version, which was about as pointless as re-cutting "The Sound of Music" and eliminating the songs. As with the source novel, the film version of "Fifty Shades" will become a sensation with people who think they're being daring by tying up their giggling partner to a bed post while playfully spanking them. Meanwhile, look for this Disneyfication of a sexual fetish to reach into other mediums- especially network television, which hasn't produced a truly original idea in decades. You can almost see the executives sitting around the long tables trying desperately to figure out how to work a bondage and discipline theme into mainstream fare:
"Hey, let's do a kinky TV remake of "My Fair Lady". We can have the leading actress sing "The Pain in Spain Falls Mainly in the Plain"!
"Forget that, we have to find out how to merge this stupid Duck Dynasty craze in with kinky sex. How about reviving "The Beverly Hillbillies" and calling the lead characters the Clamp-etts?"
It all leads to the question of whether any sexual practice can still be edgy if you can picture your parents and grandparents indulging in it. Small wonder that those who participate in the "real" world of BDSM have scoff at the pure vanilla depiction of their fetishes in "Fifty Shades".
Anyone who considers for a minute whether to explore the world of sado-masochism would be well-advised to see director Christina Voros's 2013 documentary "Kink", which has just been released on DVD, appropriately, by Dark Sky Films. The movie, produced by actor James Franco, caused a buzz and won acclaim on the film festival circuit (including Sundance) for its unstinting look at how BDSM is marketed to those who find it stimulating. Director Voros deserves praise for going all the way and not sanitizing the shocking depictions of these dark and generally sinister practices. The film makes no judgments either for or against those who indulge, but concentrates entirely on the business aspect of marketing BDSM-themed videos. The movie centers on the company Kink.com which is located in a gigantic building in San Francisco that was once used as an armory. The company's founder, Peter Acworth, an affable, forty-something Brit, relates how he got very wealthy by catering to people's darkest sexual desires. He takes us on a tour of the cavernous facility, pointing out that the foreboding nature of the huge, empty rooms suits his purposes just fine, as they provide ready-made film sets. The film observes some productions- in- the making, both straight and gay-themed. Voros interviews both cast members and directors, all of whom take their work very seriously and take pride in turning out slick, professional productions. It becomes abundantly clear that this is no longer your father's version of S&M films, which were generally relegated to old B&W 16mm loops in which naked guys in black socks and garters lamely "whipped" bored actresses, who had one eye on their wristwatch to see when quitting time was. Within the bowels of the Kink building, any number of productions are going on simultaneously. A surprising number of the directors are females, including at least one butch lesbian. They come across as generally intelligent and likable. All of the participants maintain that the secret to Kink.com's success is that they only hire real life adherents of BDSM both in front of and behind the cameras. They have female casting directors who go through a massive array of available "talent" to weed out actors who might only be motivated by money. The theory is that such individuals can't fake finding pleasure in pain and generally have to be fired. Other actors are eliminated because of objections from the leading actresses. (One male co-star is eliminated on the basis that "He's a vagina hog- he never wants to get out!") Acworth states with pride that his productions are also very well monitored in attempts to ensure that all participants are healthy and enthused. He acknowledges that there is a certain danger of someone going too far and hurting a submissive, especially when said submissive routinely cries "Stop!" but really means "Keep going!" Thus, every submissive must employ a "safe" word that, if uttered, means that all action must cease immediately. The film humanizes the participants in this peculiar practice as much as possible. In between takes on a film in which a woman is being ravaged by a group of men, the cast chats amiably about such mundane topics as organic diets and the lure of a good chicken pot pie. A few minutes later, we watch people willingly subject themselves to almost unspeakable tortures. A gay "bottom" is submerged in a bathtub while an innocent-looking young woman is violated by a sex toy mounted on what can only be described as an automated piece of industrial machinery. This is not for the squeamish. Voros doesn't go so far as to show actual penetration, but doesn't hold back on showing full frontal nudity and sexually aroused males.
Fans of The Andy Griffith Show can now escape those chopped-up re-runs on cable TV by purchasing the complete series on DVD. Now you can relish 6400 minutes of one of the great sitcoms in TV history - all uncut on 40 DVDs! As Don Knotts' Barney Fife would say- "This is big!" Click here to order discounted from Amazon at save $160!
Cinema Retro has received the following announcement:
The most celebrated lawman of the Old West rides again
in the complete series (1955-1961) of the popular classic television Series The
Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. Hugh
O'Brian stars as the famed marshal whose exploits with Doc Holliday, Bat
Masterson and the Clanton Gang are boldly brought to life in episodes based on
actual events. With his signature Buntline Special pistol in hand, Wyatt Earp
held posts in a series of increasingly lawless towns and battled dangerous men
in his efforts to keep the peace. Through Ellsworth, Wichita, Dodge City and Tombstone, Wyatt's reputation
as a just and formidable marshal grew, culminating in a storied gunfight that
would seal his legend.
The success of the TV series spawned a series of comic book tie-ins.
This complete series includes all six seasons on 30 DVDs,
approximately 100 hours of content. Also included in this collectors set are
interviews with stars Hugh O’Brian and Mason Alan Dinehart III and an historical
timeline of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.
If you haven't yet picked up Timeless Media's fantastic boxed set, Gene Autry: The Complete Television Series, we're happy to present the original press release from December, 2013:
of the most influential performers in American history, Gene Autry is the only
entertainer with all five stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, one each for
Radio, Recording, Motion Pictures, Television and Live Performance. In a career
that spanned more than three decades, Autry built a media empire, thanks to his
box-office smash musical Westerns, cross-country rodeo tours and a diverse
music career that included the million-selling hit Christmas classic ‘Rudolph,
the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’
Media Group, a division of Shout! Factory, has releasedThe Gene Autry Show: The Complete
Television Serieson DVD. For
the first time, all 91 episodes from the show’s five season run, uncut and
fully restored from Autry's personal film and television archive, will appear
together in a 15 DVD box set. The collection also boasts a bevy of bonus
content, including select episodes of Autry’sMelody
Ranchradio show, vintage
Autry commercial appearances, film trailers and photo galleries; as well as a
bonus DVD showcasing classic episodes from Autry’s other Flying ‘A’ Pictures
television seriesThe Range
Rider, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill Jr.andThe Adventures of Champion.
airing on CBS from 1950-1956,The
Gene Autry Showfeatures a
wide range of guest stars, including Gail Davis, Denver Pyle, Sheila Ryan,
Clayton Moore, Donna Martell, Alan Hale Jr., Elaine Riley, Harry Lauter,
William Fawcett, Gloria Winter, Lee Van Cleef, Lyle Talbot, Chill Wills, John
Doucette, Fuzzy Knight, the Cass County Boys, and Dick Jones.
“Paper Mask” is a movie that reminds me of those dreams
we all have, the ones where we show up at work or school and aren’t prepared
for a major meeting or test. I think these dreams show our terror of
being exposed as frauds. I also think they serve another function –
they’re the brain’s way of telling us to wake up. The brain knows we have to
get out of bed, so it creates an unpleasant scenario to jolt us from our
sleep. In a way, our brain knows what buttons to push to get us moving in
Still, it’s interesting that so many of us
fear being revealed as a fraud. It must be a universal dread.
I imagine lawyers have dreams where they aren’t
prepared for a trial. School teachers, too, must have dreams where they
enter a classroom without knowing the day’s lesson. I suppose the most
well-known of these dreams is the one where an actor has to go onstage but
doesn’t know his lines. But these dreams must be especially terrifying for
doctors, for few things could be more horrible than entering surgery and not
knowing what to do.
“Paper Mask” never quite approaches the atmosphere of a
nightmare – it’s about a young man who sneakily assumes the identity of a
doctor and gets a job at a small London hospital. At times he probably
wishes it was all a dream, such as his first night of duty when he’s met by
badly wounded people, people crying out for pain killers, and a man who’s
nearly lost a leg in a motorcycle accident. The phony doctor looks
the part, but even rookie nurses can see he’s overwhelmed by the blood and
agony of the emergency ward.
The sham artist, played by Paul McGann, had
previously worked as an orderly in another hospital. He resented doctors,
insisting to his pals that they were arrogant, overpaid jerks. Early in the
film he sees an ex-girlfriend and her new doctor boyfriend in a car crash. He
pulls them from the wreckage; she’s alive, but her beau is dead. McGann
finds the fellow’s application to a nearby hospital; as if to prove his own
theory that doctoring is easy, he takes the dead man’s place at the job
McGann has, as one character tells him, the luck of the
devil. He passes the interview, even as he stumbles when asked about the posh
school he allegedly attended.
Strangely, we’re compelled to celebrate along with
McGann as he endures his horrendous first night on the job and gradually passes
himself off as a doctor. He’s cagy, learning how to read X-rays by betting an
older nurse she can’t identify certain problems. He loses each bet, but slowly
learns his way around an X-ray. All is well until he eventually botches a
procedure and causes the death of a patient.
As in the best novels of Cornell Woolrich or
Patricia Highsmith, the plot thickens and the body count rises. Director
Christopher Morahan, a veteran of BBC dramas and comedies, doesn’t go for
laughs or dark humor in “Paper Mask.” Instead, he keeps things quick and tight
until we know McGann will have to do something desperate to keep up his ruse.
McGann is quite good as an ego-driven man who dives into a charade and always
seems on the verge of cracking. I like how he occasionally plucks out an
old American tune on a banjo, sometimes jubilantly, sometimes forlornly.
His favorite song, not surprisingly, is ‘The Great Pretender’.
Amanda Donahoe is very good as a feisty nurse who falls in love with McGann, as
is Tom Wilkinson as an older doctor who suspects McGann isn’t legit. (Yes, it’s
the same Wilkinson who taught the blokes how to dance in “The Full Monty”.)
I also loved how the movie subtly touched on the ever
present British class divide. The working class McGann had begrudged
doctors, but when he arrives at his new job, he finds that certain doctors
resent the high-class schooling found on his phony credentials. “We just
want someone who cares,” hisses Wilkinson. “We don’t care about your bloody
superior education!” When McGann sneaks into his alleged alma mater to research
his “past”, a boy accosts him. “I don’t believe you went here,” the boy says.
“Your clothes look cheap.” McGann ignores him. “I could report you,” the boy
says. “And I could break your neck,” McGann answers.
The movie succeeds because we get to know McGann
so well that we identify with his fear of discovery. But are we supposed
to feel alarm at the movie’s end, when he’s still out there, putting more
people at risk? That’s where the movie gets a bit muddy. Who is the
real villain of the piece? Is it McGann, or the medical profession? In
retrospect, the most frightening moment of the movie is when Wilkinson informs
McGann that he won’t be fired, for it would make the hospital look bad.
The idea that a hospital would rather keep an inept doctor than attract
attention for having hired him in the first place is enough to make one
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST ARTICLES FROM CINEMA RETRO'S ARCHIVES
By Lee Pfeiffer
Sony has released the 1955 crime drama 5 Against the House as a burn-to-order DVD. The little-remembered film is interesting on a number of levels and boasts an impressive, eclectic cast. The low-budget flick depicts four young ex-G.I.s who fought in Korea who return to the States and enroll in college. Al (Guy Madison) is a straight-as-an-arrow type who is engaged to sultry nightclub singer Kay (Kim Novak). Ronnie (Kerwin Matthews) is a brainy upstart with delusions of grandeur and a superiority complex. Roy (Alvy Moore) is an affable joker who is very much a follower, not a leader. Brick (Brian Keith) is the most troubled of the group. He bares psychological problems from his combat experience and has a hair-trigger temper. The guys' only vices are taking an occasional trip to Reno, Nevada and engaging in some minor gambling and womanizing. However, Ronnie concocts an audacious plan to prove he can outwit the authorities and rob a casino. He suggest that the plan be put into operation with the intention of returning the money to the casino after the fact. Ronnie wants to build his ego, not his bank account. Roy and Brick sign on to the plan, but when Al balks, Brick's anger comes through. He threatens his friends with a gun and forces them to pull off the incredible scheme. The film, deftly directed by Phil Karlson, makes effective use of on location shooting in Reno at a place called Harold's Casino. The movie works best as a character study and the performances are all first-rate, with the exception of Madison, who is a bit of a stiff in the lead role. Novak is her usual sexy self and Keith, long-underrated for his dramatic capabilities, gives a powerful performance. The film is one of the earliest to take a sympathetic look at the emotional toll war takes on returning veterans. 5 Against the House is engaging throughout and although it is unremarkable in the long run, it represents the kind of overlooked gems that the burn-to-order DVD format is rescuing from complete obscurity.
homophobia, suicide, prostitution, sex, blackmail, racism, pompous military
officers, family disagreements, GI bar fights and inter-racial relationships.
“Pearl” dips into all this and more in a three-part TV mini-series from 1978. The
series borrows liberally and literally from movies like “From Here To Eternity,”
“In Harm’s Way,” “Tora! Tora! Tora! and “Midway,” and also serves as a
forerunner for one of the best TV mini-series of this kind, “The Winds of War.”
episode opens with narration by Joseph Campanella explaining the impending Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor and the oblivious nature of Americans enjoying their
stay in paradise. John Addison’s title music evokes the tropical locale and
plays over scenes of vintage Honolulu photos prior to America’s entry into WWII.
Hawaii was a much more exotic place even after WWII.
melodrama of the series is focused on the American residents of Honolulu in the
days prior to the attack interspersed
with scenes of the Japanese Navy making its way across a stormy Pacific ocean.
The Japanese are depicted as all business in this series, which is a shame
because it would have been interesting to get a sense for what the characters
were thinking personally about the audacious military strategy..
Japanese carrier scenes and most of the aerial attack scenes are represented by
footage literally taken from the classic 1970 movie, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” The Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor occurs halfway through the second episode, after we’ve
met the characters and know all of their dalliances in paradise.
series features a “Who’s Who” of some of the well-known movie and TV stars from
the late 1970s: Angie Dickinson, Dennis Weaver, Robert Wagner, Lesley Ann
Warren, Tiana Alexandra, Gregg Henry, Katherine Helmond, Adam Arkin, Brian
Dennehy, Max Gail, Char Fontane, Audra Lindley, Richard Anderson, Marion Ross,
Allan Miller and Mary Crosby.
series was written by Stirling Silliphant, no stranger to melodrama, as he
wrote the screenplays for “In the Heat of the Night,” “The Poseidon Adventure,”
“The Towering Inferno” and “The Swarm” as well as thrillers like “Shaft in
Africa,” “The Killer Elite,” “The Enforcer” and “Telefon.” The story is
entertaining and held my interest throughout. The more salacious topics are
handled as one would expect from a late 1970s TV production which means there’s
a lot of talking about sex, but we see very little action other than the military
battle scenes are also sanitized for a late ‘70s TV audience and limited mostly
to nurses aiding men in bandages, the main characters discussing the attack and
scenes the attack taken from the aforementioned “Tora! Tora! Tora!” In the era
of “Saving Private Ryan” and “Fury”, the series feels a bit lacking in this
respect, but this was typical of TV at that time.
performances are pretty one dimensional, but the cast is engaging with their
allotted time on camera. The period costumes and vehicles help as does the
on-location filming in Hawaii. The popularity of “Pearl,” a Warner Bros.
production broadcast on ABC, may have influenced the choice by Columbia and NBC
to produce the similar six episode TV mini-series remake of “From Here to
Eternity” in 1979 which then became a short lived 11 episode series in 1980.
watched “Pearl” when it was first
broadcast back in 1978 and I’m glad it’s available for those who enjoy this
type of war time melodrama. The two-disc set is part of the Warner Archive
collection and is manufactured on demand. There are no extras on this three
part mini-series which clocks in at four-hours and 39 minutes.
begins with a close-up shot of the spires of a Gothic cathedral, organ music
playing on the soundtrack and air-raid sirens blaring as a statement appears on
screen: “Cologne on the Rhine during the last weeks of World War II.” The scene
moves down to street level as German civilians and soldiers run for bomb
shelters as destruction rains down on them. An American prisoner of war makes
his escape during the chaos and he stumbles upon the home of a college
professor and his daughter.
Ferrer plays the American POW, Captain Foster MacLain. He meets the Fraulein of
the movie, Erika Angermann, played by Dana Wynter. She helps him evade capture
during a search of her father’s home. We learn about a fiancé she has not seen
in over two years. She learns later from a letter that he has been wounded and is in a
hospital. McLain thanks her and the professor, who gives him a coat- a precious
gift under the circumstances. After McLain departs, shots are heard and Erika fears he was killed or wounded. While she is grappling with that scenario,
another air raid takes place, during which her father is killed..
heads for the safety of her uncle’s home in Berlin at a time when many Germans are
fleeing the Russian advance and heading to the American lines. A middle-aged married
couple has also taken refuge in her uncle’s home and soon a group of Russian
soldiers move in as well. The Russians get drunk and murder Erika’s uncle who
has hidden her in a bedroom. The married couple discloses her location and a soldier
is killed in a fall from the roof while trying to rape Erika. Taken into
Russian custody and charged with murder, Russian Colonel Dmitri Bucaron (Theodore
Bikel) takes a liking to Erika and orders her release.
war is over, but Colonel Bucaron’s kindness comes at a price. He fancies the
shy and beautiful Erika as his mistress and while out drinking, Erika befriends
Lori, played by Dolores Michaels, a piano player in a Berlin nightclub
entertaining Russian soldiers. Lori helps Erika escape and make her way to the
American line where she is taken in by the married couple from her uncle’s
house. They’re living well as pimps and seek to make Erika one of their
prostitutes. Erika flees yet again after being harassed and aided by an
American soldier. She ends up meeting up with Lori, who gets her a job in the nightclub where Lori
plays piano and Erika is one of several girls waiting her turn to get dunked
while sitting on a chair over a dunk tank as American GIs take turns tossing
balls at a target. Erika’s humiliation and her situation seems hopeless when
McLain, now promoted to Major, re-enters her life.
movie is episodic and melodramatic in this story of a German woman preserving
her dignity amid the degradation many German women had to endure in the final
days of the war and its immediate aftermath.. She swallows her pride several
times throughout the movie in order to survive and she bends, but never breaks.
movie is directed by Henry Koster, known for many classic movies from
light-hearted favorites such as “The Bishop’s Wife,” “The Luck of the Irish,”
“The Inspector General” and “Harvey” to more dramatic fare like “The Robe,” “A
Man Called Peter,” “The Virgin Queen,” “D-Day the Sixth of June” and “The Story
of Ruth.” At the end of his career he directed several enjoyable comedies with
James Stewart, “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation,” “Take Her, She’s Mine” and “Dear
story, based on the book by James McGivern, was almost certainly sanitized in
typical Hollywood fashion of the day. Contrary to the provocative image
depicted on the advertising art for this June 1958 release, Erika maintains her
virginal purity throughout as her dignity and future happiness is challenged.
Wynter is terrific as the shy German girl Erika. Interestingly, Wynter was born
Dagmar Winter in Berlin, Germany, grew up in England, moved to Rhodesia after
WWII and studied medicine at Rhodes University in South Africa. She was discovered
on the English stage and signed a seven year contract with 20th Century Fox in
1955. Retro movie fans will remember her from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,”
“D-Day the Sixth of June” (working with Koster for the first time), “Sink the
Bismarck!,” “On the Double,” “The List of Adrian Messenger,” “Airport,” “The
Questor Tapes” and appearances in dozens of TV series from the 1950s to the
Michaels is very good as Erika’s less shy friend Lori, a piano playing bar maid
who is the complete opposite of Erika, but with the stereotypical heart of
gold. Another great female supporting role is Maggie Hayes as Ferrer’s military
aid, Lt., Berdie Dubbin.
Ferrer is charming and good natured as the American soldier who finds Erika and
falls in love with her. Theodore Bikel is underused but still memorable as the Russian Army Colonel
Bucaron. Pivotal to the story is James Edwards as Corporal Hanks in an
important supporting role. Edwards is probably best remembered for playing noble
military characters in many movies including “Home of the Brave,” “The
Manchurian Candidate” and “Patton.”
Banner, fondly remembered as Sergeant Schultz in “Hogan’s Heroes,” appears in a
brief scene as a health inspector delivering bad news about Erika which is intercepted
by Lori. Unknown to Erika is that she’s been registered as a prostitute,a
development that adds considerable drama to the story and her hopes of
immigrating to America.
is a burn to order DVD released as part of the 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives
and there are no extras on the disc. The sound quality on the disc is crisp
with a score by Daniele Amfitheatrof. The colors
look good, if a bit washed out in some scenes. The movie was filmed in
CinemaScope, but is presented full frame for this release. It is a pity that
Fox didn’t see fit to preserve the widescreen image for this release. While much
of the movie appears to have been filmed on sets, there are several second unit
shots of the Rhine River that would have looked very nice in widescreen. I
really enjoyed “Fraulein” and it is recommended for those who enjoy WWII
I have seen virtually every James Bond clone released by major studios during the 1960s but "Assignment K" had eluded me until it was released as a burn-to-order title by the Sony Choice Collection. I was expecting another low-brow effort done on a small budget and perhaps affording some guilty pleasures throughout. However, "Assignment K" was a pleasant surprise. It's an intelligently written, well-acted espionage yarn that goes to some lengths to avoid Bondisms in favor of a realistic scenario populated by realistic characters. The film was directed by the woefully under-rated Val Guest, whose talents were generally dismissed at the time as workmanlike competence but which today seem much more impressive. (Guest had some spy movie experience, having previously directed key segments of the multi-director farce "Casino Royale".)
Stephen Boyd stars as Philip Scott, a high-powered executive of a London-based toy company. When we first meet him, he is attending an international trade show in Munich. We learn very quickly that the dapper, charismatic Scott is actually a secret agent of sorts. There are cryptic messages passed and even more cryptic conversations that take place at the toy fair as well as Scott's luxury hotel. (He seems to have a Bondian expense account, if nothing else.) The plot centers on a real MacGuffin: something about sneaking a strip of vitally important microfilm back to MI6 in London. Naturally, there are bad guys who want the microfilm, too, though I was never clear about precisely what information the strip contains. Nevertheless, Scott is not above mixing business with pleasure and during the course of his visit to Munich he meets Toni Peters (Camilla Sparv), a gorgeous young Swedish woman on holiday at a ski resort. She initially resists his attempts to get a date, but finally she relents. Scott goes all out to show her a good time and his substantial expense account certainly aids in the effort. He takes her a non-stop, dizzying agenda before succeeding in getting her back to luxurious villa. It isn't long before the undercover man is literally under the covers with his new flame. Before long, the two are madly in love- and Scott doesn't seem to be bothered by that gentleman's code for secret agents that dictates you shouldn't get too romantically involved with any "civilians". Scott's selfish obsession with Toni is understandable. (Hey, she looks like Camilla Sparv!). However, his judgment proves wrong when he continues to date her even after one of his contacts is murdered on a ski slope by adversaries who are after the microfilm. Ultimately, Toni is kidnapped and held for ransom, the price being that Scott must identify his key contact in Munich. Surprisingly, he agrees to do so, though the resolution of the problem is a little confusing in terms of his motivation. Throughout the plot, Scott keeps assuring the perplexed Toni that the real danger is over and the couple returns to London. Here, we see Scott report to his MI6 boss, Harris (played with amusing world-weariness by Michael Redgrave), who reminds him that he is putting an innocent girl in jeopardy. Sure enough, Toni is kidnapped once again, thus forcing Scott to follow in 007's footsteps in one key respect: he goes to the "toy company's" version of gadget master "Q" (Geoffrey Blaydo,n in an amusing reprise of virtually the same character he played in "Casino Royale") in order to use hi tech methods of tracking down where the kidnappers are located. He also imposes on the branch to devise a time bomb in a desperate attempt to free the innocent woman whose life he has now placed in danger. That's the extent of the hardware and gadgetry used in this film. Scott doesn't drive fantastic cars, nor does he have the ability to press buttons to get himself out of jams. He loses fist fights and takes beatings in a refreshing nod to realism.
Boyd's character is in the mode of Harry Palmer: he's clearly not enamored of moonlighting as a secret agent. (Unlike Palmer, he freelances, and thus can quit the profession at any time.) His cynicism, however, never reaches the depths of Alec Lemas, the despondent protagonist played by Richard Burton in "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold". Lemas was so cynical and disillusioned that you felt all the joy had been sapped from his life. Scott, however, adopts Palmer's ability to thumb his nose at his superiors but has not lost his joie de vivre when it comes to his vices: smoking, drinking and bedding beautiful women. The character is very well played by Stephen Boyd, an actor who could go over-the-top occasionally (see "The Oscar"!) Here he delivers one of the most restrained and impressive performances of his career. Sparv provides the kind of old world, spy girl glamour that is in short supply nowadays- and she is a more than competent actress, as well. The supporting cast is terrific and includes the great Leo McKern and Jeremy Kemp as heavies, as well as an appearance by Jan Werich, who originally filmed sequences as Blofeld in "You Only Live Twice" only to be replaced by Donald Pleasence. The film has an exotic look to it, as director Guest maximizes locations in London, Austria and "West Germany". (Isn't it satisfying that we can now eliminate "West" and "East" when describing Germany?) The plot is a bit confusing but the characters and dialogue are intriguing and there are some genuine surprises that are unveiled at the climax of the story. The only complaint is the musical score by Basil Kirchin, which is far too lightweight and zippy for a film with this somber premise.
"Assignment K" didn't make much of an impact during its initial release. Perhaps audiences were so jaded by the tidal wave of spy movies. In the U.S., the film was released as the second feature on the same bill with the horror film anthology "Torture Garden" and was dismissed by the New York Times in a few sentences that indicated it was nothing more than a glorified travelogue. It's a pity because if the film had received the reception it deserved, Boyd could have continued to play the character of Philip Scott in some well-warranted sequels.
The Sony Choice Collection DVD has a fine transfer, but is devoid of any extras, including a trailer or even a menu. Can't this film get some respect?
Vinegar Syndrome has released another double bill of vintage erotica. "Three Ripening Cherries" is a 1979 production that centers on three high school girls with a cougar mom who sits them down for a frank discussion about sex. It's clear the young women are eager to enter this aspect of their adult lives so mamma decides to give them some blunt "dos and don'ts". Sitting around the kitchen table, mom dispenses some cautionary tales based on her own experiences. Seems she was once lured to the home of a trusted middle-aged man who drugged and seduced her. Mom explains that the experience was terrible and advises her daughters to save themselves for the right man. Fine up to now. However, she then almost gleefully recounts an abundance of other sexual experiences throughout her life, all of which were seemingly far more exciting and satisfying. By the time she is through, her daughters are so worked up that they retire to bed early and can't contain themselves. Since this is a movie made by males for males, the anticipated cliches are in abundance beginning with the sexually frustrated girls engaging in a lesbian threesome. Ultimately they attempt to get some male lovers but find their frustrations only increase. Some of the hunks they approach turn out to be gay. Another guy can't perform and a third potential lover ends up being an S&M addict who ties one of the sisters to a bed and whips her. If there is a moral aspect to the kinky tale it's that the sisters learn that mamma was right and they should wait patiently for the right man to come along. The film, directed by Carlos Tobalina, has a good deal of humor but the sex scenes are played for maximum erotic impact, as Tobalina shuns the slapstick elements that defined many porn films of the era. The film's female leads are Misty, Mary Ryan and Dorothy LeMay, all of whom are refreshing in the sense that they are not gorgeous goddesses but really do look like "the girl next door". I confess to never having heard of any of them but the trailer for the film (included on the DVD) plays up their teaming like it is an Irwin Allen all-star production. None of the actresses can actually act but that's academic in a movie like this.
The second half of the double bill is "Sensual Fire", another Carlos Tobalina production with the director working under the nom de plum of Troy Benny. The story finds the ubiquitous porn presence of the era, Elliott Gould look-a-like Jamie Gillis, as Roy, a self-employed businessman who is happily living with his gorgeous girlfriend, a young widow named Laura (Jessica St. James), who seems to have no other daily activity other than luring Roy into bed. Things go awry when- in a tweak on the "Lolita" story line- Laura's teenage daughter Teena (Dorothy LeMay) returns from school to live with them. Roy is instantly obsessed with the young girl, especially when he spies on her through a secret peephole in her bedroom wall, in true Norman Bates style. This being a porn flick, what he observes isn't Teena studiously poring over textbooks in anticipation of exams. Instead, she prances around stark naked and constantly pleasures herself. At various other times Roy endures the frustration watching her get it on with male lovers. His mind becomes so tormented that he seeks counsel from a psychiatrist (John Seeman) who advises him to satiate his desires by going to a bordello and seeking out a girl who looks like Teena. The ploy works- but only temporarily. Before long, Roy can't concentrate on his work and his love life with Laura is also suffering, as he constantly fantasizes about Teena. Determined to make love to the teenager, he devises a plot whereby he says he has to leave town on a business trip, knowing that Laura and Teena have been invited to a kinky costume party. He turns up at the party dressed as Zorro (!) and in one of the film's more amusing scenes, neither mother or daughter recognize him as he calculates how to use the disguise as a vehicle for seducing Teena. "Sensual Fire" is an above average porn flick for the era, as it boasts a fairly engrossing story line and production values and the sex scenes are fairly erotic. Director Tobalina turns up in a small part playing a hip priest who counsels Roy on his sex problems. An original trailer that is included that features scenes not in the final cut. The transfer is quite good, as is generally the case with Vinegar Syndrome releases.
The Warner Archive has released the 1962 feature film Hitler as a burn-to-order DVD and it is also now available on the Warner Archive streaming service. The film was perhaps the first cinematic attempt to present Adolf Hitler's story in a dramatic biographical format. However, the project was sabotaged by the fact that it was produced by Allied Artists, then a "B" movie factory. The resulting budget appears to be somewhat less than that afforded by home movies of the day. The B&W film also suffers from a ridiculously curtailed screenplay that attempts to do justice to all aspects of one of the most dramatic lives in history. The production's running time of 107 minutes undermines any serious attempt to do justice to Hitler's remarkable, history-changing life. The film does boast a reasonably effective performance by Richard Basehart in the titular role- no small achievement, as most cinematic impersonations of Der Fuhrer tend to inspire giggles. (It is not without irony that Hitler's trademark mustache was shared by the most iconic comedic figure of his era, Charles Chaplin.) The story opens with Hitler dictating Mein Kampf from his jail cell in 1923, having failed to seize power in Germany via a violent coup. In a blink of an eye, we see him perched to take power as Chancellor when the aging Von Hinderburg dies. The screenplay dispenses with the historical context of all this in order to concentrate on the real reason for the movie's existence, which is Hollywood's long-time fascination with mingling sex and Naziism. Thus, a good deal of the movie is spent watching Adolf fawn over his niece Geli (Cordula Trantow). If you believe the story, their relationship remained chaste, which indeed it may have. Historians have long pondered over Hitler's sex life, or lack thereof, without finding any evidence that he did not die a virgin. He loved the company of attractive women and did indeed have a rather scandalous relationship with Geli, even sharing an apartment with her during his early rise to power. The film introduces the first of some outlandish historical "facts" when Geli is murdered in a staged suicide, under orders from Hitler. In fact, there has never been any concrete evidence that Hitler was responsible for her death.
The next fraulein in the Fuhrer's sphere of influence is Eva Braun (Maria Emo), a young girl with a bombshell body who willingly devotes her life to being Hitler's arm candy. Here again, the script deviates from what we know about Braun, presenting her as a strong-willed woman of impressive intelligence. In fact, Braun was an apolitical airhead, as evidenced by Hitler's real life musing that men of great power should only be involved with stupid women so their careers are not interfered with. The movie blazes through historical events with blinding speed (documentary footage is unconvincingly interwoven in an attempt to give the claustrophobic production some scope.) The movie accurately presents Hitler's deadly betrayal of his old friend, SA chief Ernst Rohm and even overtly acknowledges the fact that Rohm and his men were engaging in widespread homosexual activity during a weekend retreat, something that repelled Hitler,who ordered mass executions. The film is obsessed with the sexual aspects of Hitler's life but, as stated previously, this area remains a mystery to historians and biographers. Even after Hitler and Eva Braun were living under the same roof at the Fuhrer's Bavarian retreat, they kept separate bedrooms. The house staff was so titillated by the prospect of investigating Hitler's love life that they routinely inspected the bedding for evidence of any sexual interaction. None was ever found. Nevertheless, the screenplay takes bold liberties in presenting speculation as fact. It assumes Hitler was impotent and that this was attributed to latent homosexuality. This is another myth that historians have dismissed. Hitler once shared an apartment, and possibly the same bed, with another impoverished young man in his early days, but this was probably due to economic necessity and was not at all unusual at the time. Indeed, Hitler's disdain for homosexuals put them on his hate list along with Jews and political dissidents. In Nazi Germany, being gay meant the concentration camp. Whether the screen writer actually believed this theory is not known but there is certainly the possibility that this plot point was included simply to be provocative. Another historical incident is depicted, albeit inaccurately, with the July 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler by his generals. The ring leader of the plot, Col. von Stauffenberg is shown being hanged along with his confederates. In reality, he was shot by a firing squad.
One has to have some admiration for Richard Basehart, whose performance rises above the mediocrities that surround him. He makes for a mesmerizing Hitler and never overplays the more hysterical aspects of the Fuhrer's personality that so often inspire actors to go "over the top." The pedestrian direction by Stuart Heisler doesn't provide much inspiration for him. Nevertheless, Hitler is a odd little film that bares viewing if only for the wrong reasons.
Click here to view clip and to order from Warner Archive
Among the tidal wave of DVDs and Blu-rays sent to Cinema Retro every month by video labels requesting reviews are some very quirky titles, not all of which make it onto these pages or into our magazine's review section. That's because some are completely outside the mainstream of our reader's interests. For example, we shy away from most blood-splattered "dead teenage" movies unless they have a unique status among retro movie lovers. Additionally, we get inundated with erotic titles, some of which we do routinely cover primarily if they are also from the distant past. One exception to this is "The Clair Sinclair Show", released on the Cult Epics label. I'll freely admit I was baffled upon looking over the packaging of the screener DVD. A buxom, attractive young woman adorns that box and that's generally enough to at least temporarily get my interest. What intrigued me most, however, was the name of Bunny Yeager on the box and an indication that the DVD contained her final interview. First things first. Who the hell is Clair Sinclair? I confess I had not a clue. Turns out she came out of obscurity as an 18 year-old and in short order caught the eye of Hugh Hefner. Before she was in her twenties, she proved to be so popular in her Playboy photo layout that she earned the exalted status of Playmate of the Year. The DVD features a bizarre gimmick: Ms. Sinclair arrives at a studio where she is interviewed by....herself. Her doppleganger is dressed in a retro Bettie Page look (more about that later) and the two Claire's get along fabulously, as you might imagine. It's a blatant, self-serving tactic that is little more than a video calling card for Sinclair, who makes it clear that she hopes to maximize her moment in the spotlight. Claire assures Claire that she adores the by-gone era of traditional pin-up models, especially Bettie Page, who posed mischievously in some now classic images in the 1950s and 1960s. They were provocative in the day, with Page working with photographer Irving Klaw in scenarios that generally found her bound and gagged in photos that were often lesbian-themed. This was hot stuff back in the era of repressed sexuality but Ms. Page never indulged in anything hardcore or overtly distasteful. It's a standard that Claire Sinclair obviously follows.
Now on to the second question: who is Bunny Yeager? She was a groundbreaking female photographer who specialized in shooting female pin-up models, including Bettie Page. Yeager was pin-up material herself, a former model in the 1950s who was not adverse to posing for cheesecake photos. She was also known for her photographs of exotic locations and in 1967 published a well-received book titled "Camera in Jamaica", which included fascinating photos she took on the set of the first James Bond movie, "Dr. No" in 1962. Yeager appears in a segment of the DVD in which Claire Sinclair conducts a respectful and enlightening interview with her that explores her early days as an erotic photographer when such work for a woman was almost unheard of. Sinclair scores a coup but in a bittersweet way: this turns out to be the final interview Yeager gave, as she passed away shortly thereafter.
The DVD features Yeager conducting her last photographic session as she and her crew photograph Sinclair, who is in full Bettie Page mode, as she poses scantily clad and completely starkers. The director of the documentaries, credited as "Nico B", also had the good sense to keep the retro atmosphere going by filming some of the session in Super 8, which provides the welcome look of the old grindhouse film days. This is a low-budget production shot in conjunction with "The Erotica Channel", a web-based network that provides, well, video erotica. As with Yeager's vintage photos, the nudity depicted is never more than a bit naughty and actually looks downright wholesome by today's standards. As for Claire Sinclair, the former Playmate of the Year comes across as engaging, likable and possessing a "girl next door" quality even if virtually none of us ever had a girl next door who actually looked like her.
In her excellent analysis of the 1962 Elvis Presley film "Follow That Dream"- which is included in the limited edition Twilight Time Blu-ray release- film historian Julie Kirgo concisely but thoroughly explores the one aspect of The King's career that brought him more frustration than satisfaction: his stature as an international movie star. When Elvis first exploded on the international music scene in the 1950s, Hollywood came calling immediately. Presley, under the guidance of his Svengali-like manager Colonel Tom Parker, found himself starring in films that were primarily designed to promote his music but which afforded him intelligent story lines and the opportunity to showcase his considerable charms as a leading man. The word on Presley was that, given the proper nurturing from established screenwriters and directors, he could become an acclaimed actor in his own right. Then Uncle Sam intruded and Presley was drafted. Elvis' two-year stint in the U.S. Army became the stuff of pop culture legend. Without any fuss or any attempt to dodge the draft, he did his duty and was honorably discharged. When he re-entered civilian life, however, the Colonel had a different vision for his star's big screen career. Instead of holding out for roles that would have allowed Elvis to progress as an accomplished actor, the Colonel signed him to a long contract with legendary producer Hal Wallis, who agreed with the Colonel that the main objective would be to quickly crank out low budget flicks that would be highly profitable. If that offended Elvis' sensibilities, too bad. They pointed out that on the few occasions where Elvis had been allowed to play mature characters in intelligent films, the boxoffice receipts lagged behind his upbeat, teen-oriented musicals. Thus, the King found himself not in control of his own destiny, at least when it came to the silver screen. Before long, he was churning out indistinguishable lightweight fare that served as little more than an extended music videos to sell the accompanying soundtrack albums. The ploy worked, financially, at least, but left Elvis feeling frustrated and betrayed by the two mentors he had entrusted to guide him to a long, satisfying movie career.
One of Elvis' more accomplished and satisfying films was the aforementioned "Follow That Dream". The story was based on a humorous novel titled "Pioneer, Go Home!' by Richard Powell, who also authored the source novel for the fine 1959 Paul Newman film "The Young Philadelphians". It's an amusing, whimsical yarn that finds Elvis as Toby Kwimper, a hunky young man who is traveling through Florida with his father, known as Pop (Arthur O'Connell) and a comely teenage companion, Holly Jones (Anne Helm), who- for all intents and purposes- is his adopted sister. Also in tow are two young twin toddlers. Seems like Pop has a soft spot for caring for orphans and inviting them into his home. His motive, however, isn't entirely based on compassion. In the case of the twins, he has been getting child welfare payments from the state. Pop is adverse to doing an honest day's work and is systematically exploiting "The System" itself, figuring out how to maximize government handouts that are designed to help the genuinely poor. Pop and Toby are poor, alright- but it's by choice. They live a spartan, nomadic existence and learn to do without materialistic things. All the while, Pop prides himself on maintaining a staunch conservative political viewpoint- that big government is bad and corrupt and that everyone should fend for themselves. As Julie Kirgo points out in her liner notes, he is not unlike some hypocrites today who denounce all aspects of the government but seem to be first in line for any payouts when it comes to exploiting government programs. Pop's car breaks down on a patch of remote government land in central Florida. With the car immobile, Pop announces that the group will simply make this their home. Before long, he and Toby have constructed a ramshackle home complete with outhouse. When a local official tries to evict him, the wily Pop discovers that the precise land he is squatting on falls under an archaic law that allows him a loophole to claim it as his own. Much of the film is dedicated to Pop using his guile to outfox the city slickers who want him to move on. Meanwhile, he finds it beneficial to declare his one room shack a legal "community", which necessitates the appointment of a sheriff. Toby reluctantly accepts the job. The young man is more honest than his father but is naive in the ways of the world. Like the Clampetts of "The Beverly Hillbillies", Toby is more innocent than stupid and somehow finds a way to get the upper hand in every attempt made by others to undermine his family's homestead. Before long, he and Pop have built a successful fishing business that begins to thrive and deliver some legitimately-earned cash into their coffers.
British movie edition paperback tie-in.
The film is a bit off-kilter when it comes to explaining why Toby is so adverse to getting involved with girls. The explanation is shallow especially when one considers how hormones rage at that age. Joanna Moore is a social worker who attempts to seduce him but he turns her down. This sets in motion a major plot device in which she attempts to use loopholes in the law to take the twins away from the household unless they agree to leave the state. Meanwhile, "Sheriff" Toby has another problem: two big city gamblers (Simon Oakland and Jack Kruschen) have opened a adjoining all-night gambling den next to the Kwimper household. The two men pretend they want to be friends with the naive Toby, who they actually exploit to their benefit. The film climaxes in Toby taking on both the threat of the gamblers as well as the local officials, the latter in an amusing courtroom sequence.
"Follow That Dream" has Elvis croon a relatively light load of only five songs. They are of varying quality and, frankly are presented in ridiculous fashion. Elvis will be laying on the grass staring dreamily into the sky and when he begins singing, the sound of a band appears out of nowhere as he unconvincingly lip-synchs the lyrics. Nevertheless, the paucity of songs does allow Elvis to emote and he gives a fine, low-key and self-assured performance. He is helped by the fact that there are so many good character actors in the film and that the entire production is under the hand of an accomplished (if criminally underrated) director, Gordon Douglas. The screenplay is by another respected screen veteran, Charles Lederer.
Elvis sang five songs in the film but so hated the one titled "Sound Advice" that he refused to include it on the soundtrack album.
The film does end on a relatively uncomfortable note, with Toby and Holly becoming a romantic couple. They might not be blood relatives but they have been living in a brother/sister relationship, which gives this aspect of the story a bit of a disturbing aspect, much as similar relationship did in John Huston's "The Unforgiven" in which Audrey Hepburn seemed to have the hots for her adopted big brother Burt Lancaster. Still, "Follow That Dream" is one of Elvis' more impressive movies and illustrates the potential he would have had if he continued to be nurtured as an actor by seasoned professionals in the industry. What isn't explored in the Twilight Time liner notes are the specific missed opportunities. He had been offered a key role in "The Rainmaker" but the Colonel insisted that Elvis get top-billing in any motion picture- an absurdity considering this production wasn't a musical and top-lined two screen legends, Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn. Years later, Hal Wallis did consider him for the second male lead in his 1969 production of "True Grit" but the Colonel would have none of it because Elvis wouldn't get top billing over John Wayne. The part went to Glen Campbell and the film was internationally hailed as a classic western. Frustrated, Elvis finally put his foot down and did his own western, a production called "Charro!" that was inspired by the Italian westerns made famous by Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone. It wasn't half bad and Elvis acquitted himself well enough but by then his boxoffice appeal had dwindled. He would make only two more feature films, although he was the subject of two other acclaimed documentaries about his concert performances in the 1970s. The legendary performer had managed to salvage his musical career by ignoring the Colonel and getting back to basics with his sensational 1968 comeback TV special. Sadly, the same fate did not await him in the film industry and we are left to ponder what could have been.
The Twilight Time release of "Follow That Dream" is right up to the company's usual high standards. In addition to an illustrated collector's booklet, there is an isolated score track and an original trailer.
If you think extremist talk radio is a relatively new phenomenon, the release of the 1970 film WUSA on DVD by Olive Films shows just how far back the not-so-grand tradition goes. The notion of reaching out to the fringe elements of society is well-documented here, with Paul Newman as a down-and-out musician with some broadcasting experience who sells his soul by taking a job as a DJ on right wing extremist radio station WUSA in New Orleans. Newman knows he's being used as a pawn for white supremicist tycoon Pat Hingle, but willingly accepts the fame and fortune that he receives when his star begins to rise - despite personally despising the words he reads on the air. In between playing cornporn patriotic ballads, Newman's character, known as Rheinhardt, spouts incendiary rhetoric designed to empower racists who want to combat expansion of the welfare state. Along the way, he hooks up with sexy-as-hell Joanne Woodward, playing an equally down-and-out woman whose fortunes have declined so badly that she is rejected when she applies to be a stripper. If the film seems especially harsh on the right wing fringe, liberals aren't spared, either. Anthony Perkins plays a stereotypical do-gooder, a true believer that LBJ's war on poverty would result in the establishment of his Great Society. What he fails to realize is that he, too, is being used as a dupe by community leaders who are secretly being paid off by WUSA management. Thus, both the forces of right and left collaborate to ensure inertia among opportunities for the impoverished.
that a nuclear attack is imminent as international tensions escalate past the
tipping point, James (voiced by John Mills) and Hilda (voiced by Peggy
Ashcroft) prepare for the worst. From
their nostalgic memories of the World War II Blitz, the elderly English
working-class husband and wife anticipate that “the worst” will be inconvenient
but survivable. Consulting the
government’s civil preparedness brochures, James constructs a lean-to shelter
inside their cottage and lays in a supply of tea, crackers, and tinned food. When the bomb falls, the lean-to protects the
couple from the immediate heat and concussion of the blast, but the house is in
a shambles, the power is out, the taps have gone dry, and the toilet doesn’t
work anymore. Gamely enduring, the
couple settles down to wait for “the powers that be” to bring relief that never
comes as the insidious effects of radiation sickness set in.
the Wind Blows,” an animated feature by Jimmy T. Murakami, faithfully
reproduces the deceptively simple visual look of the 1981 graphic novel by
Raymond Briggs on which it was based. As
the story progresses, the bright, cozy tones of the early scenes give way to
the darker, grayer shades of James and Hilda’s post-blast environment, and the
texture of the images becomes richer and grittier. The story is poignant and its quietly angry
message still resonates, even if we’ve swapped the Soviet bogeyman of the
movie’s Reagan-Thatcher era for a new array of heebie-jeebies on the 6 o‘clock
news. Remember, not so long ago,
Homeland Security reassured us that we had nothing to fear if terrorists were to
attack the U.S. with biological weapons: just stock up on dust masks and put
duct tape around the windows.
Time’s new Blu-ray release packages a windowboxed, 1.33:1 transfer of the movie
in 1080p hi-def with a wealth of supplementary materials, notably a making-of
featurette, a 2010 documentary about animator/director Murakami, an interview
with author Briggs, isolated music and effects tracks, audio commentary by
First Assistant Editor Joe Fordham and film historian Nick Redman, and a handsome
souvenir booklet by Julie Kirgo.The
Blu-ray, which is limited to 3,000 units, can be ordered HERE.
DVD cover art for “The Accursed!” states that the story is “from the files of
the world’s most fabulous secret society: 1958’s sensational spy shocker!” The
movie has the look of a low budget thriller from Hammer studios and features
several alumni of that studio.
members of a German underground resistance group meet annually on the
anniversary of their leader’s death. Colonel Price, played by Donald Wolfit, became
their new leader during the war and years later receives a call from his
contact in Germany informing him that one of their members is a traitor and
responsible for their former leader’s death. The man making the call says he
wants to deliver the name of the traitor in person at Colonel Price’s home in
England where the resistance group is also gathered. The man arrives, but dies
after being stabbed before he reveals the name of the traitor.
Accursed!” features Wolfit, Robert Bray, Jane Griffiths, Anton Diffring and
Christopher Lee in a post-WWII suspense thriller that’s mostly armchair mystery,as
most of the movie takes place in one room of Colonel Price’s mansion. Among the
members of the resistance group are Vicky, played by Griffiths, Joseph, played
by Diffring and Doctor Neumann, played by Lee. Joseph is a pianist working on
his next concerto and was in love with Vicki.
after the murder, American intelligence officer Major Shane, played by Robert
Bray, arrives along with his British aid and proceeds to try and unravel the
mystery and uncover a traitor. It turns out he knows the members of the group
and it’s more than a coincidence that his car breaks down near the home of
movie moves at a brisk 74 minutes and the mystery is solved in a satisfactory
manner. The film, directed by Michael McCarthy, includes a fine score featuring
the piano solo “Prelude Without a Name” composed by Jackie Brown and played by
Dennis Wilson. Wolfit and the rest of the cast are entertaining and the
resolution is very enjoyable.
Accursed!” was completed in June 1956 and originally titled “The Traitor” when
released in the UK in March 1957. It didn’t receive an American release until
July 1958 via Allied Artists along with a title change. The title change is
curious because the original title better connects to the story while “The
Accursed!” reminds one more of a title for a horror movie.
are a few scratches and artifacts found throughout the movie and a couple
scenes go almost black, but overall this black and white movie looks pretty
good. “The Accursed!” is a burn to order DVD released as part of the WB Archive
Collection and there are no extras on the disc. The movie is presented in a
widescreen format preserving the original aspect ratio of the movie. This is a
good rainy day movie and a welcome addition for any fan of British murder
(This review pertains to the UK Region 2 DVD release)
the recent BFI release of the BBC television series Out of the Unknown
comes this oddity; the only completely surviving episode of Out of This World,
a science fiction series produced in the early 1960s by independent television
channel ABC. The series was created by Irene Shubick and produced by Leonard
White, who would achieve lasting fame through his co-creating The Avengers.
Like other anthology shows before it such as Armchair Theatre, this was
conceived as an opportunity to present a variety of quality writing to
mainstream audiences. It was Shubick's belief that science fiction contained
some of the 'most original and philosophical ideas' in modern fiction.
Karloff was employed as the presenter for the show. By this time he was
seventy-five but was still regularly working in both the US and the UK despite
deteriorating health. He was no stranger to the anthology format, having
previously hosted the shows The Veil (1958) and Thriller
(1960-1962), the latter running to sixty-seven episodes. Out of This World
itself only ran to thirteen episodes, despite being a success at the time.
Irene Shubick was poached by the BBC where she was able to spend the next
several years working on her love for science fiction by producing the
aforementioned Out of the Unknown, that time not using a presenter.
due to budgetary constraints, it was common for television recordings to be
erased after broadcasts, so only one episode of Out of This World
remains, an adaptation of Isaac Asimov's Little Lost Robot. As with all
of Asimov's robotic tales, the story deals with the problems that arise when
the rules governing robot behaviour are tampered with. When an irritated
engineer tells a highly-sophisticated robot to, "Get lost!" this is
exactly what it does. Obeying every instruction, it proceeds to blend in with a
hanger full of identical robots. However, as this robot had its rule to not
allow harm to come to humans revoked, this poses something of a problem for
those in charge. Dr Susan Calvin, a robot psychologist, is called in to devise
a series of tests which will allow her to flush out the real lost robot in
order that the whole batch need not be destroyed. Despite the small sets and
slightly laughable robot costumes, it is an intriguing tale.
of other episodes have survived, and in attempt to be the most complete release
possible the BFI have included them here: an audio recording of Cold Equations,
starring Peter Wyngarde and Jane Asher, and an incomplete audio recording of
Imposter, an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story which would later become a
Hollywood movie in 2001. Also included is the shooting script for Dumb Martian,
adapted from John Wyndham, and a brand new audio commentary with the series
producer Leonard White. White, now aged 98, is on remarkable form and has an
excellent memory for his work in British television. Rounding out the DVD
package is a booklet containing a full history of Out of This World
including plot details for each episode.
Leonard White, photographed at age 95 at a UK "Avengers" event.
(Photo copyright Adrian Smith. All rights reserved.)
latest BFI release is the last in their current "Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and
Wonder" season and is a must for completists and genre fans, and
demonstrates that TV science fiction in the 1960s could be more than just
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
ON THE EVE OF THIS YEAR’S SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL,
PAST GRAND JURY
PRIZE NOMINEE, HOLY ROLLERS, STARRING
NOMINEE JESSE EISENBERG, MAKES ITS FREE VOD DEBUT EXCLUSIVELY ON SNAGFILMS
Beginning January 20th, this Ripped-from-the-Headlines Crime Drama,
Award-Winning Filmmaker Kevin Asch (Affluenza),
Co-Stars Justin Bartha
(The Hangover), Ari Graynor (TV’s “Bad Teacher”), Danny A. Abeckaser
(The Wolf of Wall Street), Q-Tip and
Hallie Kate Eisenberg (Paulie); it
Will Be Available to View Online
at SnagFilms.com, and All Supported Devices, Including Their Multi-Platform
NEW YORK, NY (January XX, 2015) – Inspired
by actual events in the late ‘90s in which Hasidic Jews were recruited as drug mules, HOLY ROLLERS was a
Gotham Award winner and Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize nominee in
2010. On the eve of Sundance 2015, the
crime drama, starring Oscar® nominee Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Now You See Me) makes its free VOD debut on
January 20, exclusively on SnagFilms, the
award-winning social video-viewing platform and 2014 Webby® nominee. It will be available to view online at SnagFilms.com, and all
supported devices, including their multi award-winning app.
HOLY ROLLERS, directed by award-winning indie filmmaker Kevin Asch (Affluenza),
mild-mannered Sam Gold (Eisenberg) is a young Rabbinical student from an
ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Borough Park, Brooklyn. Looking to make some
extra money, Sam and his best friend Leon (Jason Fuchs, Ice Age: Continental Drift) accept a job
from Leon’s brother Yosef (Justin Bartha, The Hangover) to retrieve a suitcase in Amsterdam and walk it
through customs in New York. Yosef has ties to an Israeli drug
cartel, the mysterious cargo turns out to be pure MDMA (ecstasy), and the
promise of easy cash lures Sam into becoming a smuggler and dealer. The film co-stars Ari Graynor (Celeste and Jesse Forever), Danny A.
Abeckaser (The Wolf of Wall Street),
Q-Tip (Cadillac Records), and Hallie
Kate Eisenberg (The Insider)
award-winning streaming video platform offers entertainment lovers an extensive
library of over 5,000 free movies, TV series and web originals on demand. The platform provides members the tools to
discover, watch and recommend a wide range of professional online video
content. The SnagFilms viewing
experience is available everywhere, enabling audiences to watch movies on the
web (including thousands of affiliate sites) as well as on sector-leading
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Inc., also owns Indiewire, the independent film industry’s leading news service
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Robert Stigwood ended the 1970s with three major musicals in a row, “Saturday Night Fever,” “Grease,”
and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band,” and then stumbled in 1980 with “Moment
by Moment,” a dumb romantic melodrama with Lily Tomlin and John Travolta.“The Fan” (1981) was expected to revive his
winning streak, headlining Lauren Bacall and James Garner in a suspense thriller
about a Broadway star (Bacall) stalked by the deranged title character, played
in fine creepy fashion by newcomer Michael Biehn.But “The Fan” also did mediocre box
office.Some observers believed the
timing was bad.Three real-life
tragedies involving stalkers were still uncomfortably fresh in peoples’ minds
-- the murders of John Lennon and actress/centerfold Dorothy Stratten, and the
attempted assassination of President Reagan.Other critics blamed the studio’s marketing of the production as a
“Bacall and Garner movie.”The two stars
drew an older fan base that perhaps expected a sedate show-biz suspense drama,
and instead were surprised and turned off by scenes of slasher violence and
co-billing with Bacall, Garner has hardly more than a walk-on role as Jake, the
ex-husband of Bacall’s character, Sally Rice. He doesn’t even show up in the denouement when Sally has her big
confrontation with knife-wielding Douglas Breen (Biehn) in an empty
theater. Garner’s absence from this key
scene must have confounded his followers. Surely Jake would pull a Jim Rockford and show up in the nick of time to
years on, viewers who come to “The Fan” by way of its new release as a Warner Archive Collection DVD may find it far
more interesting than moviegoers in 1981 did. This was director Edward Bianchi’s first feature film (he’s since gone
on to a prolific career directing TV dramas), and instead of investing the movie
with his own style, he clearly borrows from Brian de Palma for the stalker
scenes and from Bob Fosse for the backstage rehearsal scenes and Sally’s big
number for opening night. It isn’t that
Bianchi doesn’t borrow well, with the debt to de Palma underlined by the fact
that the movie is scored by de Palma’s resident composer, Pino Donaggio. It’s that the jarring slasher scenes seem to
belong to a different movie than the slinky, “All That Jazz”-flavored
song-and-dance routines. Adding to the
tutti-frutti mix, Bacall’s spotlight number, “Hearts, Not Diamonds,” sounds
like a Saturday Night Live parody of a 1981-era Marvin Hamlisch/Tim Rice show
tune. In fact, it actually is a
the 1981 audience may have been disappointed by this scrambled omelet of
over-the-top moments, it’s a lot more entertaining than the predictable,
star-driven suspense movies that followed later in the ‘80s, such as “Still of
the Night,” “Jagged Edge,” and “Suspect.” Younger viewers now may get a kick out of the movie’s vanished world of
land-line rotary phones, typewriters, and people smoking in hospital waiting
rooms. Pay attention and you’ll see
Griffin Dunne, Dana Delaney, and Dwight Schultz in minor roles. A scene of Douglas cruising a gay bar, with
unfortunate results for a young man he picks up, has chilling implications on a
symbolic level that would not have been apparent to audiences when the movie
opened in May 1981; the first reports of a real-life scourge stalking the gay
community, AIDS, had not yet surfaced.
The Warner Archive
Collection edition of “The Fan” is a manufactured-on-demand DVD. It has a scene-selection menu and English
captions for the hearing-impaired, but no other extras. The image is a little soft, which may be
unavoidable for older source material, and it’s only a drawback in the “Hearts,
Not Diamonds” number where a crisper image would add to the fun.
in American football has been a big issue during the last year. After former
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was videotaped knocking his girlfriend
unconscious in an elevator and other players were reportedly involved in
incidents of domestic abuse, the National Football League issued a Code of
Conduct for players. Violation of the code can result in a player being
suspended or kicked out of the sport altogether. In Great Britain, however, it’s
not the players who are guilty of off-the-field violence, it’s the fans.
“Football hooliganism” as it is known, is and has been a problem for years.
Nick Love’s 2008 film, “The Firm” tells a story set in the midst of this violent
those who don’t know, football hooliganism refers to the organized gangs of
young soccer fans, almost all young men, who meet one another when the mood
strikes them to have a go at bashing each other’s heads in. These organized groups,
sometimes consisting of 100 or 200 young men, are known as “firms.” According
to Nick Love’s film, however, football has little to do with the violent
encounters these groups instigate. In fact, there was not a single frame of
film shot at a soccer stadium during a game.
Firm” was originally a television play broadcast in the 1980’s and featured
Gary Oldman as Bex, the leader of one of the firms. Reviews indicate it was
told from Bex’s point of view. Love’s adaptation
keeps the time frame, but changes the point of view and makes it more of a
coming of age story. In this version, the viewpoint character is Dom, a boy in
his teens who still lives with his parents, and encounters Bex and immediately
succumbs to a kind of hero worship.
Anderson plays Bex in this version, and Calum MacNab is Dom. Both give very
good, very real performances. And the shifting point of view between the two
main characters provides an interesting contrast between the two characters’
lifestyles. By day Bex wears a suit and tie and sells real estate. At night, he
wears Adidas and bright-colored jogging suits. He hangs out at a local pub with
members of his “firm,” and sets strategy for the next coming fight.
on the other hand, lives in an “estate,” an ugly housing project. and works
with his father in a construction business. Dom’s parents are shown to be mindless
cogs in the lower class of society. A chance encounter in a pub brings Dom and Bex
together, and the younger boy is impressed with the older man’s ferocity and
ruthlessness. When he’s invited to join Bex’s firm he jumps at the chance. He
immediately goes out and begs for money from his dad to buy the kind of clothes
Bex wears. He leaves his former best friend in the dust, and begins using
hooligan slang, that his parents don’t understand.
it is this emulation of Bex that leads to the beginning of Dom’s disenchantment
with his idol. The turning point comes in a scene where Dom shows up at a firm
meeting wearing the same exact red jogging suit and shoes that Bex is wearing.
When the rest of the firm ridicules Dom for this faux pas Bex simply
shrugs his shoulders and lets them rag on him until they’ve had enough. When he
finally tells the others to leave him alone, you can see the disappointment in
the story progresses, Dom begins to see the man he thought was so cool is
actually some kind of psychotic, a man full of violent rage. He leads his firm
in several clashes with another group, the Setis, with the violence escalating
with each encounter. Dom watches as Bex’s lieutenants try to reason with him,
but to no avail. He seems determined to lead his gang and himself into suicidal
Firm” is an interesting film, and keeps you glued to the screen to see how it
finally turns out. And unlike so many films today, it’s about something real,
not spaceships and superheroes. I give Love credit for carrying on a long
tradition of realism in British films that dates back to the days of Tony
Richardson, John Osborne and Alan Sillitoe. Love is not as good a writer as any
of those three. This film contains none of the indicting dialogue of England’s so-called
“Angry Young Men” characters who were so prevalent in films of the 1960s.
tells his story visually. Dialogue is minimal and what there is of it can
barely be understood because of the characters’ heavy accents. It’s all surface
level action. That combined with the loud soundtrack full of music from the ‘80s
results in an accurate portrait of the England of Margaret Thatcher, but it
does not go very deep into what really motivates men like Bex and Dom.
it’s a film well worth watching. The Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray
transfer is first rate. The disc contains extras, including the usual deleted
scenes and “making of” featurettes. Another on how the gang fights were
choreographed also was of interest. A booklet containing notes by Julie Kirgo i
also illuminating. The disc also has an isolated soundtrack score. All in all,
a nice package.
This release is limited to only 3,000 units. Click here to order.
(John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
In a major coup, Amazon Prime's video streaming service has signed Woody Allen to write and direct a full season of half-hour programming. The new series has not been titled nor has a concept even been finalized. Allen- presumably in jest- said that his lack of vision for the project may make Amazon regret its decision. That seems unlikely. Allen is one of the most prolific filmmakers in the world and has a track record that is unrivaled: he has released at least one major film every year since he made his directorial debut with "Take the Money and Run" in 1969. Allen is also arguably at the pinnacle of his career, with some of his recent films earning major awards and kudos from critics.
Amazon Prime is going toe-to-toe with Netflix in terms of dominating the video streaming business. Polls show that viewers are rapidly defecting from watching traditional TV broadcasts in favor of utilizing streaming, which allows them to watch what they want whenever they want on TVs and mobile devices. The signing of Allen gives a boost in prestige to Amazon. For more click here.
Warner Archive continues to serve film fans very well by remastering and
releasing a continual stream of little-known and under-appreciated movies from
their huge vault. Terror on a Train (1953) (titled Time Bomb for its UK release)
certainly fits the “little-known” category and once it's seen by more people I
think it will be quite well appreciated by fans of tight B cinema.
film takes place in England where a sharp-eyed police officer catches a man
skulking about a train yard at night. The fellow assaults the cop and runs off
leaving behind a bag with the components of a bomb. Quickly the police realize
that the escaped man must have planted a bomb on the munitions train he was
seen near. Looking over the train's schedule they surmise the bomb must be on a
timer and would probably be set to explode when the train reached the most
populous spot on its trip - the Royal Navy Yard in Portsmouth.
for a demolitions expert lead the authorities to Canadian national Peter
Lyncort (Glenn Ford) who was trained in World War II as a explosives defuser
and his help is enlisted even though he tells the government men he is not at
his best, as his wife Has just walked out on him minutes before! The railway authorities
divert the train onto a line in a residential area and the people nearby are
evacuated as Lyncort tries to find and disassemble the explosives hidden among
the dozens of large mines before the time bomb will explode. At the same time,
the cop who was assaulted by the saboteur is allowed to play a hunch that the
bomber might want to observe his handiwork. He goes to the train station in
Portsmouth in the hopes of spotting the man and possibly getting more
information out of him about the bomb's location. Will Lyncort succeed or will
all his marital problems be solved in a loud ka-boom?
is a short, sharp thriller that moves along very quickly and maintains interest
throughout its 72 minute runtime. Although the film has a pretty good score it
is used very sparingly until the end. The tension of the film is built through
good editing and direction (by Ted Tetzlaff) instead of musical stings and the
movie is the better for it. Many films are undercut by layering the score over
every scene but here the natural, ambient sounds of the hunt for both the bomb
and the saboteur are used to make things more realistic. It could be argued
that the martial discord story element is superfluous but I enjoyed the tension
it added to the ending as Mrs. Lyncort realizes that it is her husband that is
risking his life to defuse the explosives. The film was shot on location and
that adds verisimilitude to the proceedings as does the inclusion of several
nice eccentric characters who seem to mainstays of British cinema from this era.
Warner Archive DVD presents the film in its original aspect ratio looking and
sounding crisp and clean. The only extra offered is the trailer which might
best be skipped until the feature has been enjoyed so that spoilers are
The final image of Arthur Penn’s “Night Moves”
certainly gets the movie pundits in a lather. The scene consists of Gene Hackman as private eye Harry Moseby, shot to
pieces but still trying to steer his motor boat to shore. Bleeding badly from his wounds, he’s unable
to reach the gears; he ends up setting the boat in a circling motion. From
above, we see Harry’s boat circling aimlessly in the Gulf Stream. This scene, which brings the film to a
finish, has been described as a metaphor for many things, including America’s
lost identity after the Watergate era, to Moseby’s own fruitless search for the
truth, to Penn’s own floundering career. To me, it always looks like the boat is going down a drain (or a
toilet). It’s the sort of ending that
leaves a viewer wondering if you’ve missed something, and leaves critics
tripping over their tongues trying to explain it. It’s a bummer, that’s for
But don’t let your aversion to despair prevent you from
watching “Night Moves”. I think it
actually trumps the self-conscious “Chinatown” as an example of neo-noir,
mostly because it doesn’t dress itself up in period garb; instead, it settles
into its own time period, 1975, with Moseby being as much a man of the ‘70s as
he is of the noir tradition. Moseby
isn’t above roughing a guy up for some information, and he certainly beds down
his share of women, but he also deals with such modern ‘70s elements as a
cheating wife, an estranged father, and his share of shattered dreams. Poor
Harry is not only a failed football player, but he’s even failing in his second
career, that of a private investigator. What actor from noir’s golden era could play Moseby? Bogart was too
self-assured. Alan Ladd was too much the tortured angel figure. Widmark? Maybe. Mitchum? Never. Hackman, raw-boned but
intelligent and slightly melancholy, was born to play Moseby. He’s just about in his prime here, on the
heels of those great performances in “The French Connection”, “The
Conversation”, and “Scarecrow”. As
Moseby, he’s the private eye as working class mug. He’s too good for the work
he’s in, but not too good to mingle with the people he’s investigating.
The screenplay, by Brit novelist turned Hollywood
writer Alan Sharp, borrows all of the right elements from the noir cannon: A
faded actress hires Moseby to locate her missing daughter, Delly. The search
brings Moseby to Florida where he finds Delly with her step-father Tom, a charter
pilot who seems to be part of a smuggling operation. It’s all a bit vague and confusing, but it’s
so beautifully played by Hackman and company that you won’t mind not getting it
all. When you get to the end, don’t try
to figure out what just happened, because the movie wasn’t designed to be
understood. Just absorb it and walk away.
The supporting cast is up to the challenge of keeping
up with Hackman, especially a young James Woods as a slippery mechanic who
knows more than he lets on, and a 17-year-old Melanie Griffith as the sinfully
attractive Delly (short for Delilah). John Crawford plays Tom as a blubbery
middle-aged doofus, but his climactic fight scene with Hackman is splendid, one
of the unsung fight scenes of the ‘70s, right up there with Ernest Borgnine
attacking Lee Marvin with a hammer in “Emperor of the North”. Jennifer Warren is Tom’s girlfriend Paula, a
slightly faded hippie chick whose resume includes such varied jobs as teaching,
stripping, and hooking. Warren is one of
those actresses who didn’t act in many movies, but looks familiar because she
did so much TV work. Either that, or it’s because she resembles that other
faded hippie chick, Susan Anspach.
Melanie Griffith as the wayward teenager.
The shoot took place during the second half of 1973 in
Los Angeles as well as at Sanibel and Captiva Islands in Florida. It was a
troubled production. Hackman, a sullen sort to begin with, was enduring some
personal problems; Sharp was unhappy
with the handling of his script, and later complained about Penn’s
“indecisiveness”; and Penn was in a dark mood due to the darkness of the material,
which he described as being about “a country gone boundless.” The director cut scenes that slowed the
action, assuming the audience could figure out what was happening. This is what gives the film its quick pace,
but may also add to the sense that we’re losing something. Penn also admitted that halfway through the
shoot he stopped caring so much about creating a detective story, and became
more interested in revealing Harry Moseby’s inner-self.
“We didn’t pay that much attention to plot,” Penn said
at the time of the movie’s premiere in 1975. “We thought that plot was not
going to be achievable, that there was never going to be way of saying ‘Ah-ha!’
in the last reel when you find out that so-and-so did so-and-so. And my only
excuse or explanation for that is that we’re part of a generation which knows
there are no solutions.”
Ironically, nine days after the release of “Night
Moves” came the release of “Jaws”, a movie that set records at the box office
and forever changed the way movies were made and distributed. Steven Spielberg’s shark may as well have
eaten every print of “Night Moves”, for the arrival of “Jaws” more or less
marked the end of contemplative stories like the one about Harry Moseby. There was nothing vague about the ending of
“Jaws”, that’s for sure. The good guys
killed the shark, and that was that. There were certainly no conversations as
you left the theater about whether the shark really died or not. The era of
introspective characters and vague endings was over. No solutions? Just blow it up, Jack.
In the years since “Night Moves” first hit theaters,
its supporters have praised it as an underappreciated gem, and I agree. There are some great lines here, like when
Moseby’s wife walks in as he’s watching a football game. She asks, “Whose
“Nobody,” he says. “One
team is just losing more slowly.”
Little nuggets like that one keep the movie afloat,
even as the story becomes harder to follow.
When one considers the films of the late, great French director Louis Malle, soul-searching dramas such as "Au Revoir, Les Enfants", "Lacombe, Lucien", "Pretty Baby" and "Murmur of the Heart" come to mind. Malle also had a whimsical side and was not adverse to inserting a good deal of wit and humor into some of his films such as the remarkable "My Dinner With Andre", which consists almost entirely of a conversation between two old friends presented in real time. Then there is Malle's masterpiece "Atlantic City", a witty and moving look at aging with dignity set within the world of petty criminals in the dilapidated New Jersey resort town. One genre you would not associate with Malle is action/adventure. Yet, in 1965, Malle improbably delved directly into that genre with "Viva, Maria!", an expensive production that top-lined two of France's most popular home-grown national treasures, Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau. The film is a weird entry in Malle's body of work but it is nonetheless a great deal of fun and Kino Lorber has, thankfully, just released a stunning transfer of the film on Blu-ray.
The film opens in Europe in 1907 where we find a little girl named Maria shamelessly exploited by her Irish terrorist father, who utilizes her innocent persona to help him carry out deadly attacks against the British government. It's a sordid relationship that extends over many years, as Maria comes of age but remains devoted to her father's cause. The pair's war against government oppression ultimately leads them to the fictitious Central American nation of San Miguel. Here, the duo wreaks havoc on the corrupt government, which is controlled by a brutal dictator named Rodriguez (Carlos Lopez Moctezuma). Eventually one of their plots goes wrong and the father is killed in a shootout with government forces. Maria (Bardot), now a stunning beauty in her twenties, makes a narrow escape and finds refuge inside the wagon of a traveling circus. Here, she holds one of the performers, also named Maria (Moreau), at gunpoint while she gorges herself on food and drink. Despite the hostage-taking scenario, the two women bond in friendship. Bardot Maria is unsophisticated but courageous and self-reliant. Moreau Maria recognizes her as a diamond in the rough and sees elements of her own personality in her. Both are single women trying to survive in a world dominated by men. Knowing that Bardot is wanted by the law and the subject of a nationwide manhunt, Moreau convinces the owners of the circus to bring her on board as a partner for Moreau in her dance act. They perform their relative benign act in wild barrooms in front of sex-starved men who shoot each other at the drop of a hat. When a minor wardrobe malfunction reveals more skin than anticipated, the audience goes wild. The two Marias decide to incorporate this accidental bit of bawdiness into their act. Before long, they become a sensation with their mild striptease act. The entire nation has heard about them, even if the majority of peasants will never get to see their act. The Marias prove to be lucrative for the circus and both women are content. Bardot Maria looks enviously on Moreau Maria's active love life as the traveling show attracts hunky guys in every town. Soon, the virginal Bardot decides to give men a try. She is instantly hooked and outdoes her mentor in the boudoir. (This is another unusual aspect of the film for its day: the notion of women enjoying fulfilling sex lives without any shame or guilt).
The blissful lives of the two Marias come to a crashing halt when the circus troupe is arrested by goons who work for Rodriguez after the women interfere with the ransacking of a village during which numerous innocent people are murdered and enslaved. The circus performers are imprisoned, presumably to await certain execution. While in jail, Maria Moreau meets a prominent revolutionary, Flores (George Hamilton, somewhat out of place in the proceedings.) Although tied to a cross and in terrible pain, he is not immune to Maria's charms- especially when she - shall we say- alleviates him from some of his stress. Before long, both Marias are influenced by Flores to join the revolution. They help the circus performers orchestrate an escape that is amusingly staged, as each performer utilizes his or her unique talents in order to overcome the guards. Before long, the two Marias are national icons for the peasant class, who mobilize an army behind them. The final act of this bizarre "western" finds the Marias boldly leading their new army into battle against the forces of Rodriguez.
"Viva Maria!" (the Blu-ray sleeve omits the exclamation point) is wacko concept grandly executed by Malle. Both Bardot and Moreau seem to be having a grand time playing out the proceedings and foreshadowing the Women's Lib movement by portraying kick-ass action heroes. In the latter stages of the film, Malle goes for comic book heroics and blatant cartoon-like scenarios, but it all works very well indeed. Some of the battle sequences take on an almost epic feel but never overshadow the unique wit and style of the basic story line. I was surprised at how impressed I was by this film and the Kino Lorber transfer is most welcome.
The original trailer is included as a bonus extra.
Vinegar Syndrome has released yet another retro erotica double feature on one DVD. Both flicks are from the big hair era of the 1980s and both features center on similar themes: a frustrated young woman whose workaholic lifestyle leaves virtually no time for their love life. "Purely Physical" (1982) is the more impressive feature, largely because it has some production values and a reasonably intelligent plot, coupled with relatively accomplished actors and actresses. Laura Lazare plays Kathy, a young, overworked college girl who needs extra income. She applies for and gets a job as the night clerk at a local motel. It doesn't take long for the outwardly prim and proper Kathy to observe that the place's primary source of income is as a "hot sheet" destination for people who want to carry out their sexual fantasies. She keeps a poker face even when confronted with the obvious intentions of her clients. There is a nervous young teenage boy who has barely cobbled together the $32 room fee in order to finally consummate his love for his cute girlfriend. There is a dorky, chunky guy who believes the hot number who picked him up in a bar really just wants to sit around the motel room and indulge in his passion for movie trivia. (She turns out to be a conniving hooker.) There is the frustrated traveling saleswoman (Juliet Anderson as "Aunt Peg", the original screen cougar) who finds she has no time for lovers so has to take sexual matters into her own hands. Finally, there is an exhausted businessman whose friend sends up two hookers to please him. He rejects their offer but when they inform him that they are actually lovers, he relents and let's them indulge. Predictably, his exhaustion fades pretty quickly and he gets in on the action. Then there's the attractive and wealthy young woman who want to indulge in her fantasies by renting a room and bringing in her two male tennis instructors. Faced with this sexual tidal wave on her doorstep every night, Kathy finally succumbs to make her own fantasies come true. "Purely Physical" was apparently filmed, at least in part, at a sizable motel, though one wonders if the owners who consented knew exactly what kind of movie was being made on their premises. The opening credits are actually rather impressive, with some good photography of Kathy bicycling through busy city streets. Lazare, who appeared in numerous porn films throughout the 1980s, overcomes the bad hairstyles of the day and gives a fairly accomplished performance. The film only disappoints on one level: the much-hinted-at match-up between Kathy and Aunt Peg never occurs, beyond some mild flirting. Still, "Purely Physical" is one of the better porn efforts of the era.
"Cathouse Fever" (1984), on the other hand, is a lazy "quickie" feature with Becky Savage as a young L.A. secretary whose work hours deprive her of any romantic relationships. She makes the bold decision to join a bordello in Las Vegas. Aside from some "B" roll footage of Vegas in the era, the rest of the film is shot in one-room settings with the exception of a few beach scenes in which Becky is seen walking on the beach. Once at the bordello, Kathy enthusiastically embraces her work, bedding and pleasing an oddball selection of guys, some of whom probably mirror the real life experience of hookers in that they are decidedly unattractive. The movie stresses comedy, with some slapstick sequences inserted into the action. The routine script includes the usual standard sequences involving lesbians and group sex but most of it plays out in mundane fashion.
Both features boast excellent transfers and include the original trailers.
Those delightfully perverted souls at Vinegar Syndrome have delved back into the well to resurrect another interesting artifact relating to retro erotica. "Prisoner of Paradise" has to be one of the most ambitious porn feature films ever made. Released in 1980, it actually had a fairly exotic location and a semi-respectable budget, at least compared to the grindhouse fare that was being churned out back in the day. The film is attributable to one Gail Palmer, who became a bit of sensation for her status as one of the few female directors of porn movies. Here, she is credited with co-directing the film with porn legend Bob Chinn. (It has since been alleged that, in fact, she only served as a front for her then-boyfriend, who was said to be the actual director of the films that bore her name.) "Prisoner of Paradise" presents a bizarre scenario that starts out as a straight adventure film. The ubiquitous porn presence, John Holmes (aka Long Johnny Wadd) stars as an American sailor in WWII. When we first see him, he's washed up on a tropical island. (Yes, the film seems to have actually been shot somewhere more exotic than a bedroom above an L.A. taco restaurant.) Seems Holmes' character, Joe Murrey, is the only survivor of a Japanese submarine attack on his vessel. The film actually plays out as a legitimate survival story for a while, with Holmes' Joe exploring the island, trying to build shelter and identify ways to hunt and find fresh water. In fact, the film moves at such a deliberate pace that it takes a full eleven minutes until the script allows Holmes to reveal his legendary appendage. This is done through the use of flashbacks. We see him interacting with the love of his life, a Chinese girl in an unnamed city, presumably in China. Prior to shipping out to sea, they have an emotional goodbye, as seen in a tastefully directed lovemaking sequence. Minutes later, however, a bombing raid occurs and the girl is killed, leaving Joe emotionally devastated. Now he is apparently the only inhabitant of this remote island and the memories of his love haunt him even further...that is until he comes across the shocking sight of two stunningly beautiful women bathing in a nearby waterfall. Joe follows them and makes an even more shocking discovery: they are part of a tiny Nazi/Japanese encampment. The women are Ilsa and Greta (played respectively by platinum-haired porn icon Seka and Sue Carol.) Turns out that they are Nazi soldiers who have been assigned to this secret outpost along with their commandant, Hans (screen credited as Heinz Mueller. Real name: Elmo Lavino!). Joe observes the goings-on at the camp, which consists only of a hut and small storage shack. The only other inhabitant is a Japanese guard (Jade Wong). The wacky premise is based on the fact that Germany and Japan were allies during the war, but the real reason seems to be a set-up for some inter-racial sexual romps.
Joe is startled to see two captive American nurses (Nicki Anderson and Brenda Vargo) taken at gun-point into the shack where they are sexually abused by the commandant and his two female adjutants, who conveniently turn out to be lesbian dominatrixes. Joe makes a daring attempt to rescue the nurses but they are captured by Suke, the Japanese guard. Brought before the commandant, the trio is subjected to both verbal and sexual abuse- well, at least the women are. Joe's "punishment" is having one of the nurses perform...er, let's call it oral surgery- on him. There are also the prerequisite lesbian sequences. The commandant is total nutcase who is so over-the-top that he makes Werner Klemperer's Col. Klink look like a model of comedic restraint. The commandant toasts pictures of Hitler, even as he condemns him for banishing him to this remote outpost. (Would he really rather have been on the Russian front than on a tropical island with sex-starved women?) Suke makes her predictable intentions known by performing more...er, oral surgery- on Joe, who is tied to a post. During the course of his confinement, he sees the kind of action you used to have to go to Plato's Retreat to experience, yet he is intent on breaking loose. The finale of the film finds Joe successfully freeing the nurses and killing his Axis enemies in a fiery explosion.
What sets "Prisoner of Paradise" apart from most of the porn drivel of this era is the better-than-average direction coupled with a relatively lavish budget. There are some impressive special effects in the finale and the directors even manage to squeeze in an original love song, which isn't as bad as those old lemons by Bread that used to chart in Billboard in the 70s. The battle sequences are shown in flashback and consist of genuine newsreel footage combined with footage from "Tora! Tora! Tora!".
They used to call James Brown "the hardest working man in show business." With all due respect to the Godfather of Soul, I don't think he could hold a candle compared to John Holmes, who was said to have gotten it on with literally thousands of women, all under hot kleig lights in front of a camera crew. "Prisoner of Paradise" at least offered him a change of scenery. The film is rather entertaining in its own bizarre way and the Vinegar Syndrome DVD is impressive. It boasts a fine transfer as well as the original trailer and a gallery of other retro porn coming attractions.
In viewing the first half hour of the 1970 British May/December romance Say Hello to Yesterday, I was sorely tempted to hit the "eject" button the DVD player and pass this title along to one of our other reviewers who might not have such an immediate disdain for the film. Why did I have such a visceral reaction? Because I could not recall a romantic film that featured such an irritating, annoying leading man, in this case played by Leonard Whiting. From the very opening sequence which introduces him as the somewhat estranged son from London who drops in, unannounced and uninvited, on his birthday to visit his working class mother and father. The reception he receives is a rather cool one. He accompanies his dad as the older man makes his daily trek to some rather Orwellian-looking dead end job in an industrial plant. At first, your tempted to to sympathize with this unnamed lad, given his father's constant criticisms about the way he is leading his life. The elder man accuses his son of being a shiftless grifter who can only enjoy the bright lights of the big city by mooching off of friends and acquaintances. The younger man dismisses the criticisms and remains so perpetually cheerful and jolly that you soon begin to resent him, too. The scenes depicting the young man's strained home life give way to his taking a commuter train back to London. On board is a forty-something, attractive woman (Jean Simmons), whose character also remains unnamed during the course of the story. (For the sake of convenience, I will very creatively refer to them as "the man" and "the woman"). A brief introduction to her home life makes it clear that she is a typical suburban housewife with a successful husband and a couple of kids. Outwardly, you can see she lives a comfortable life and doesn't want for materialistic things. However, her body language conveys the fact that she is not satisfied with her lot in life, as she coldly bids her husband goodbye. She's off to spend an entire day in London, ostensibly to go shopping and to have tea with her mother. Yet, the viewer can immediately sense that her real purpose is to temporarily escape her rather mundane daily routine.
On board the train, the man, who is in his about twenty years old, is chatting up an attractive girl his own age when he spots the woman sitting in a crowded passenger compartment, surrounded by stuffy businessmen. He is intrigued by the fact that she obviously wants to smoke but has been consigned to a non-smoking compartment. He is amused by the fact that she is trying to unobtrusively peel the "No Smoking" decal from the compartment window. He is also immediately infatuated by her, despite their age difference. (Who can blame him? She's Jean Simmons!) Soon, they meet cute but she isn't interested for good reason. The man comes across as an obnoxious case of arrested development, badgering everyone in the compartment with juvenile and cynical quips. She finds him slightly amusing, but when she discovers he is following in her footsteps around London shops, she becomes exasperated- especially when his flirting ritual includes causing an embarrassing commotion in a department store. Soon, she is running through the streets of London with the man in pursuit and a posse of good samaritans chasing him down, thinking he intends to harm the woman. In the end, he finally catches up with her and uses his charm to begin to win her over. By this point in the story, credibility goes out the window. The woman is obviously cultured and intelligent and it defies reason that she would put up such a grating would-be paramour simply because he's young and hunky. The man is the human equivalent of nails scraping on a blackboard. Yet, I persevered, if only because the performances by Seberg and Whiting were so engaging. A strange thing happened along the way: I became increasingly engrossed in the story and fate of the characters. Whiting is on hyper-ventilation mode most of the time but in the few sequences in which he talks calmly to the woman, he tells poignant and moving stories about his tragic past. Yet, she suspects- and so do we- that these may be tall tales, because it seems this modern Walter Mitty is also a compulsive liar. Nevertheless, his infatuation with the woman flatters her, even though she repeatedly attempts to escape his company. Yet, even buses and taxis won't deter him. (He catches up with the taxi and jumps on the running board in an act that is supposed to be charming but would strike most women as the action of a potential serial killer.)
The film was clearly inspired by David Lean's 1946 masterpiece Brief Encounter, in which two everyday people begin to fall in love after a chance meeting at a train station. The resemblance ends there, however, as the man in this story is a far cry from the sober, sane and classy character played by Trevor Howard in the Lean production. The plot consists of the woman alternately accepting the man's company, then trying to repel him. She is outraged when he secretly follows her to her mother's apartment and barges in to introduce herself. In an amusing plot twist, the mother (wonderfully played in a wry turn by Evelyn Laye) thinks the young man is her daughter's lover. She not only accepts this but encourages her daughter to carry on with secret liaisons with him, confessing to her astonished daughter that she, too, had enjoyed an affair decades ago. ("It was a long war", she says ruefully). Ultimately, the man and woman do decide to consummate their one-day affair, though by this time the woman is still of decidedly mixed emotions. She feels a sense of guilt. As with the straying married woman in The Bridges of Madison County, she recognizes that her husband is a good man and that the "crime" of being dull shouldn't justify a sexual affair with a man she has just met. In the film's best sequence, they gain access to rental flat and go through the always-awkward process human beings have to engage in when they bed a lover for the first time. This prolonged sequence is the heart of the movie and leads to emotional rollercoasters for both the man and the woman, as he tries to persuade her to leave her humdrum existence for the fun, yet insecure, life he would provide. By this time, I found myself completely engaged in the story line and caring about how matters would be resolved.
Director Alvin Rakoff is to be credited for the sensitive handling of this material. He also deserves high praise for shooting mostly on location, which provides some stunning views of London in 1970. Simmons and Whiting are both terrific and the latter can't be blamed for the fact that his character never really matures beyond the state of a "man-child". The film features a lush musical score by Riz Orolani and some chirpy pop love songs that make The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" seem cutting-edge. Nevertheless, the film does boast some superb cinematography by the late, great Geoffrey Unsworth and it's a rich looking production throughout.
Scorpion Entertainment has released a first-rate special edition DVD of this modest film that most retro movie lovers probably never even heard of. Film historian Tony Sloman does yeoman work on the commentary track with Rakoff, who is refreshingly candid about his criticisms of various aspects of the movie, including the title, which he disdains to this day. Rakoff tells some marvelous anecdotes that sometimes divert from the film at hand, but are nonetheless interesting. They involve frustrations that emerged when working with Bette Davis, who felt she didn't need any direction. He also recounts getting fired from films because of creative differences with the powers-that-be. He is nonetheless proud of Say Hello to Yesterday, though he admits to cringing at some of the man's over-the-top comedic antics. He rightly lavishes praise on Jean Simmons, pointing out that although "cougars" might be all the rage today, it was considered daring to present a love story in 1970 in which a young man is involved with an older woman. Rakoff says that Simmons was self-conscious because she felt she had "bad legs", thus she shows only a glimpse of them above her boots. He also bemoans the fact that Whiting should have had a very successful career in films, but it inexplicably petered out shortly after this movie was released. Rakoff also tells interesting stories about filming in London and points out a brief walk-by cameo done by Rod Steiger, much to Tony Sloman's amazement. Both men are rather astounded at how sparse the traffic and crowds were in the London of this era- a far cry from the teeming masses that populate the city today. The special edition also includes the original trailer.
Say Hello to Yesterday is in many ways a flawed film but it is nonetheless a highly engaging one. Recommended, especially if you are as enamored of retro British cinema as I am.
Charles Bronson was 55 at the time of “St Ives” (1976).
He was just a couple years past his star-making turn in “Death Wish”, and was
enjoying a surprising run of success. I
say surprising because Bronson had, after all, been little more than a craggy
second banana for most of his career. Now, inexplicably, he had box office
clout as a leading man. In fact, Bronson
reigned unchallenged for a few years as the most popular male actor in
international markets. Yes, even bigger than Eastwood, Newman, Reynolds,
Redford, or any other 1970s star you can name. Many of Bronson’s movies were partly financed by foreign investors, for
even if his movies didn’t score stateside, they still drew buckets of money in
Prague or Madrid. Some have suggested that his popularity on foreign screens
was due to how little he said in his movies (there was never much dubbing
required in a Bronson flick). I tend to think international audiences simply
liked what Bronson was selling: straight forward toughness. Because he was much older than his peers, he
didn’t play up the counter cultural smugness or cynicism. No, Bronson was a shear, undiluted
bad-ass. And that sells anywhere.
So what, I wonder, did the global movie goer think of
“St. Ives”? It was a change of pace for
old Charlie, for he talks more here than in “Mr. Majestyk,” “The Stone Killer”
and “Hard Times” combined. He’s also not
blowing his enemies away, or beating them senseless in an alley fight. Even the veins in his neck seem relatively
docile in this movie. He plays Raymond St. Ives, a former L.A. newspaper
columnist who lives in a fleabag hotel. He sleeps late, gambles what little
money he makes on football, and is supposedly working on a novel. We never see him writing, but every time
someone greets him they say, “Hey, how’s the novel going?” That’s how we
know. (The adverts for the movie also
showed Bronson smoking a pipe, yet he doesn’t smoke a pipe in the movie. Since
he spends a lot of time at a deli, a more accurate poster would have shown him
eating a pastrami sandwich.)
When he’s not being a lovable slacker, St. Ives
occasionally “helps” people, ala Travis McGee. The connections he made during his years as an ambulance chaser now
assist him when he needs help tracking down a shady character. When he’s hired by a wealthy old windbag to
retrieve some stolen documents, he soon finds himself knee deep in dead bodies,
and crooked cops. John Houseman plays
Abner Procane, the aforementioned windbag. Procane sits in his mansion, weeping
over old King Vidor movies, while a mysterious coterie of people bustles around
him, including a personal psychiatrist who massages his back. He’s mum about the contents of the documents,
but he’s willing to pay a lot of dough to get them back. Since St. Ives is not
close to finishing his novel, he takes the gig. As the movie’s tagline read: “He's clean. He's mean. He's the
The screenplay by Barry Beckerman was based on a novel
by Ross Thomas, and it tries hard to ape the old Raymond Chandler style.
Unfortunately, it’s neither tough enough to be “hard-boiled,” nor dark enough
to be “noir.” It’s simply the sort of convoluted “who done it” that was rampant
as the mid-1970s went nutty with detectives. Not only was every TV network saturated with investigators of every ilk,
but the big screen was hit with dozens of features, including “The Long
Goodbye” (1973), “Chinatown” (1974) remakes of “Farewell My Lovely” (1975), and
“The Big Sleep” (1978), plus lighter versions of the genre such as “The Late
Show” (1977) and “The Big Fix” (1978). “St. Ives” fits into the list somewhere,
if only because it was probably made to catch the wave created by
“Chinatown.” It’s not nearly as good,
but it has many fine moments and is more watchable than you might think.
First of all, the film looks great. Cinematographer
Lucian Ballard, who worked with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Sam Peckinpah,
finds the right tone for an LA where it’s always just past sundown, a low rent
LA of crowded diners, crappy motels, and garages where cars are outfitted with
armor plating. Also, J. Lee Thompson, a
versatile and underrated director (“Guns of Navarone” “Cape Fear”) moves the
story along at a brisk step. There’s a
great scene early on where Bronson is thrown down a freight elevator shaft and
has to scramble his way to safety before he’s crushed; it’s as intense as
anything Thompson directed in his long career.
The cast features a pleasing collection of journeymen
and fringe contenders, including the likes of Houseman, Maximillian Schell,
Elisha Cook Jr., Michael Lerner, Harris Yulan, Harry Guardino, Daniel J.
Travanti, and Dana Elcar. You’ll even see Jeff Goldbloom and Robert Englund as
hoodlums who learn that one shouldn’t mess with Charles Bronson, even when he’s
not in vigilante mode. Jacqueline Bisset
is here, too, for movies of this sort require a femme fatale. She doesn’t quite cut it – she’s too urbane -
but her wet t-shirt scene in “The Deep” was coming up soon and all would be
“St. Ives” loses steam during a second half mired in
car chases and dreary detective work. Lalo Shifrin’s scratchy guitar and bongo soundtrack fails, too, sounding
more appropriate for an episode of ‘Baretta’. There’s a decent shootout at the end, and a couple of twists that we
don’t see coming, but nothing in the film’s second half lives up to the promise
of the first, when Bronson was discovering bodies stuffed into dryers, and
Houseman was huffing and puffing like Sidney Greenstreet.
The movie flopped when it was originally released in
the late summer of 1976. Audiences and
critics alike couldn’t quite accept Bronson as a thinking, methodical
character. One newspaper headline
roared, “Is Bronson Going Soft?” Bronson
couldn’t win. His violent movies were criticized for playing to the rabble, but
when he tried to change, reviewers seemed indifferent, or in some cases,
downright disappointed. “Bronson,” wrote a Pittsfield MA critic, “should be
ashamed of himself.”
Bronson appeared in a few movies during this period
that seemed to be a conscious break from his usual fare. There was “Breakheart
Pass”, an interesting murder mystery set aboard a train in the 1800s, and a
comedy western called “From Noon Till Three.” But as usually happens when a well-known star tries something different,
these movies were a hard sell. LA critic
Charles Champlin called “St. Ives” “competent but uninspired,” and said that
Bronson, “continues to be a strong and attractive figure, even when he has as
little to do as stroll through this charade.”
Was Bronson disillusioned by the cold reception given
to “St. Ives”? If the movie had been a
success, would he have considered playing more characters like Ray St. Ives, a fellow described in The New York Times
as “….the kind of private-eye role that Humphrey Bogart used to do." I’d like to think that if this film had been
a success, Bronson might have continued to evolve as an actor, rather than
spending his later years grinding out the “Death Wish” sequels.
What I like best about “St. Ives” is that Bronson seems
to be having fun. And he’s not
half-bad. He was certainly not a
Neanderthal who couldn’t handle dialog. He speaks the one liners and wisecracks
with a surprising dryness, such as when some thugs rob him of 50 bucks and
complain that he doesn’t have more money on him. "It only took you five
minutes to get it," Bronson says. "That's $600 an hour..." Good
stuff. Bronson may not deliver it the way Richard Dreyfuss would have, but
Dreyfuss probably couldn’t climb out of an elevator shaft.
Still, there’s a
telling moment late in the movie when Bronson pulls a gun. His eyes turn black and the gun seems an
extension of his arm. While watching
this scene I was reminded of something I once read about Buffalo Bill Cody –
that his popularity was largely due to his looking better on horseback than any
other man. And Bronson, too, I could argue, simply looked better with a gun in
his hand than any other actor. And he
didn’t need the comically huge hardware of Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, either.
Bronson looked dangerous even with a small pistol. Perhaps it was inevitable that he would
resume making violent pictures and leave the more subtle characters
behind. But in “St. Ives”, he was compelling
without leaving the streets awash in blood. Bronson was better than anyone knew.
Ives” is available as part of the Warner Archives streaming service. Click here to access the site.
"St. Ives" and "Telefon" are available as a Bronson double feature DVD from Warner Home Video. Both titles contain original trailer and there is a vintage production featurette for "St. Ives". Click here to order from Amazon.
anyone with any knowledge of the history of film could tell you, Bruce Lee is
an icon of both the worlds of martial arts and action cinema. He was a dynamic
and exciting performer who seemed born to be on the big screen. His untimely
death -just as his career was poised to become bigger than any previous Asian
film actor- is only one element of his legendary status. Lee was an astonishing
onscreen presence whose athletic abilities and kinetic style made him the
center of attention whenever he was present. Until he was afforded the chance
to star in his own movies, his bit roles such as a violent thug in Marlowe (1969) showed how thrilling he was to watch. His role in the short-lived TV
series The Green Hornet cast him as the sidekick but it was Lee who provided
the most memorable element in every one of those twenty six episodes. Once
you've watched him onscreen his natural charisma is evident and it is no
surprise that pictures of him often adorn the same walls as other 'gone too
soon' icons as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Like those screen legends, Lee
died in his prime with much promise laid out for the future and- like them- his
loss will be felt by his fans forever.
Bruce Lee's short film legacy is mostly unseen these days by martial arts movie
fans. Other than his last completed film, Enter The Dragon (1973), his film
history seems to have disappeared from the minds of most action fans. It almost
as if Lee's contribution to martial arts cinema began and ended with that one
excellent movie. Luckily, the fine folks at Shout! Factory have produced a
fantastic, affordable Blu-Ray set that presents Lee's earlier films in nearly
perfect transfers- and they have even
included a few hours of extras to provide some context for modern viewers.
up is 1971's The Big Boss which in many ways is the standard template for an
entire sub-set of Chinese martial arts adventures. Lee plays Cheng, a young man
from the countryside who is traveling to a bigger village to get a job (a
common fate for males living in rural China). He intends to work hard and send
money back home to his mother, who has extracted from him a promise not to
utilize his considerable skills as a street fighter in the big city.. Cheng's
uncle gets him a job in the local ice making factory but in just a few days our
hero discovers that the business owner is using the industrial-sized blocks of
ice to transport heroin. Cheng confronts the boss's henchmen and things get
violent quickly- and become even worse when his his co-workers turn up murdered.
Soon Cheng's (almost) girlfriend is kidnapped for the depraved boss' lustful
attentions and it is time for wrongs to be righted in vengeful style.
Big Boss was a huge financial success worldwide and made Lee's stardom
concrete. In many ways it is typical of the type of action film being produced
at the time in Hong Kong. The story is set in contemporary times and used the
usual plotline of drug smuggling as the story's engine. There were at least a
few dozen similar movies made in the 1970s what sets this production apart is
the presence of Bruce Lee. His experience in American television and film is
evident in his careful and fairly nuanced performance. Indeed, his more natural
style often contrasts sharply with some of his co-stars as they mug their way
across the screen like thy were projecting to the cheap seats. Lee's amazing
physical skills are shown well here, too, even if I cringe at the silly
trampoline work used to enhance the fights. The stunts are impressive and the
action well choreographed with the only real complaint being that the film's
pace is often leisurely to the point of irritation. The film clocks in at
nearly two hours and could have been a good deal shorter.
up is 1972's Fist of Fury which is a period piece set in the early 1900's in
Shanghai with Lee playing Chen Zhen. In many ways this is very much a typical
martial arts film of the time with a plot seen often. Chen has returned to his
old school to marry his beloved but learns upon his arrival that his martial
arts master has died from what appears to have been natural causes. Chen is
incredibly upset and angry about this and doesn't believe his master's death
was natural. At the funeral students from a rival Japanese school insult Cheng even
going so far as too slap him repeatedly. Cheng refuses to disgrace his master's
funeral but he later goes to the rival school to challenge his harassers. In an
impressive display of ability, he defeats the entire Japanese school including
the master. This sets up an ongoing series of attacks and retaliations of
various kinds that culminates in much mayhem, death and vengeance leading to a
surprisingly downbeat ending. No one really wins in this terrible war.
a modern viewer it is interesting to see how strong a statement this film makes
about the horrors of racism. The war between these rival schools is based
mostly on ethnicity and is ginned up by wounded pride and the inability to let
old wounds heal. The emotions on display can feel over the top at times but
they seem to reflect the blind hatreds of these groups as rational thought is
ignored in the rush to inflict pain on rivals. Of course, this somewhat
depressing takeaway doesn't alter the fact that the action scenes are
incredible as a showcase for Lee, who demonstrates some amazing skills.. My
favorite fight scene in Fist of Fury has to be the excellent dojo battle wherein
Lee takes on an entire room of opponents and walks away unscathed. (The scene
is marred only by the distraction of flying dummies and bad wigs.)
The year 1972 saw Lee taking control of his
film career in a new way by writing and directing his next screen role. Way of
the Dragon was released in the United States as Return of the Dragon but no
matter what the title, it is a fascinating film. In Rome a Chinese restaurant
owner is having trouble with the local crime bosses. Help from home is
requested but when only one person appears in response to their plea, the
victims despair. Luckily for them this one person is Bruce Lee as Tang Lung.
Tang insists he is capable and even shows his open mindedness by stating that
any fighting style is good and can be incorporated into your own form. Soon the
mobsters are causing trouble, demanding payment and harassing the restaurant
owners in any way they can. After a missed opportunity because of a poorly
timed bathroom trip, Tang establishes his skills and warns the mafia bosses
that these people and their establishment are under his protection. Even though
a death threat on Tang is issued, he refuses to leave and ultimately is forced to take on his would-be
assassins. Seeing that the local killers are not up to the task, a Japanese and
an American martial arts experts are hired to finally take Tang out and it is
in these confrontations that the conflict will be resolved.
rookie cop or soldier arrives at his first assignment and quickly finds they’re
in the middle of some serious trouble. This basic plot has been used more times
than any movie buff can count and crosses genres like westerns, war movies and cop
thrillers. “Pony Soldier” is an odd western in that the action takes place in
Canada and involves the Northwest Mounted Police.
1876 and Canadian Cree Indians cross the border into Montana to hunt buffalo,
but are mistaken for Sioux by the U.S. Cavalry and a battle ensues. Known as
long knives by the Cree because of their sabers, the Cavalry forces the Cree to
retreat. The leader of the Cree kidnaps two white settlers in order to trade
them for buffalo and safe passage to Canada.
Duncan MacDonald, played by the ever-youthful Tyrone Power, is briefed on the
problem and takes up the challenge to negotiate the freedom of the white
captives. He is joined by his half-native scout and side-kick Natayo Smith,
played by Thomas Gomez, in an effort to preserve the peace between the Cree,
the settlers, the Mounties and the U.S. Cavalry.
plays the diplomat cop very well and gains a reluctant friendship with the Cree
chief Standing Bear, played by Stuart Randall, while clashing with the Cree
soldier Konah (Cameron Mitchell), who seeks a confrontation with the U.S.
Cavalry across the border in Montana.
a mirage appears across the valley showing the ocean and a large ship,
MacDonald convinces the Cree of the futility of their efforts and they reluctantly
decide to consider his offer to free the white captives. It turns out one of
the captives is an outlaw, Jess Calhoun (Robert Horton), who is wanted
for murder by the Mounties. The woman captive is pretty Emerald Neeley (Penny Edwards), who has been chosen by Konah to be his bride.
Northwest Mounted Police seek to maintain the peace by returning their wards,
the Cree, back to their home in Canada. Power’s MacDonald is the perfect mix of
level-headed constable and diplomat. He even manages to befriend a Cree orphan
who wants to be his adopted son. While ever the diplomat, MacDonald is no pushover
and asserts himself with the Cree and in a final confrontation with the outlaw
Soldier” looks like a typical western of the era with a Cavalry battle, horse riding
stunts, shootouts and lush vistas while also presenting the native characters as
more than caricatures. Many, if not all, of the native supporting cast appear to
be Native Americans with Anthony Numkena, a Hopi Indian, a standout as
MacDonald’s adopted son, Comes Running.
movie is based on a Saturday Evening Post story by Garnett Weston and was
directed by Joseph M. Newman. Newman helmed the sci-fi classic “This Island
Earth,” the noir cult film “Dangerous Crossing,” Tarzan, the Ape Man” and
several episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”
this movie isn’t shot in the gritty adult western style made popular by John
Ford, Anthony Mann, George Stevens, John Sturges and Fred Zinnemann in the
1950s; it still manages to be entertaining as a sort of transition between the
standard western formula of old Hollywood and the modern westerns being made by
to IMDb, this movie is the film debut of Earl Holliman and features an
uncredited performance by Richard Boone. It also features narration at the end
of the movie by an uncredited Michael Rennie. The movie ends with MacDonald
completing his assignment followed by a contemporary tribute of the Royale
Canadian Mounted Police with Rennie extolling the virtues of their continuing
mission as peacekeepers.
The movie looks terrific and was filmed in Technicolor on location in the Coconino
National Forrest near Sedona, Arizona, and in California’s Red Rock Canyon. The
20th Century Fox production was released in December 1952 on the eve of
CinemaScope and it’s a shame this movie was not able to make use of the wide
Twilight Time Blu-ray release, which looks and sounds wonderful, is limited to 3,000
copies and can by ordered via Screen Archives. The score by Alex North is
offered as an isolated track on the disc and is the only extra. The release
also includes the usual booklet of images spread throughout an informative and
entertaining essay by Julie Kirgo. Fans of Tyrone Power and “north” westerns
will want to give this movie a view and possibly add a copy to their
This week, Amazon is cutting the price of the Universal Pictures 100th Anniversary limited edition Blu-ray and DVD sets. Save up to $220! Includes 25 classic films, a CD of film scores and a 72 page book.
First Run Features has released director Lucia Puenzo's acclaimed 2013 film "The German Doctor" on DVD. The movie is the highest profile Argentinian release in years and was honored at numerous international film festivals. Puenzo, who also wrote the screenplay, based on the film on her novel, which- in turn- is said to have been inspired by the real-life experiences of a family who interacted with the infamous Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele. During WWII, Mengele was known as "The Angel of Death" at Auschwitz. Here, he utilized his considerable medical skills for evil purposes, selecting who would live and die among the wretched masses who arrived daily at the death camp. Those who were spared were consigned to a living hell of torture and slave labor. The few children who were not put immediately to death were used as human guinea pigs in Mengele's bizarre and cruel medical experiments. He was obsessed with genetics in his goal of helping Hitler fulfill his ambition of creating a "Master Race". Mengele played a key role in attempting to manipulate pregnancies to ensure that only Aryan children would be born in nations under Nazi control. His bizarre theories have long been discredited by the mainstream medical establishment, particularly his obsession with twins. Mengele studied pairs of twin children through inhumane methods, often operating on them without any pain-killers. The few prisoners who interacted with him and managed to survive the war report that, for all his barbaric practices, Mengele had a calm, almost soothing demeanor that would often lull his victims into thinking he was a benign presence in the camp. He would pat children on the head and offer them candy, only to dispose of them like rubbish hours later. In the aftermath of the war and the chaos that ensued in Europe, Mengele managed to escape (along with many other Nazis) to South America. In his case, he found refuge in Argentina, where the corrupt government sheltered him, presumably in return for his "expertise" about how to fine-tune torture tactics.
It is against this backdrop- what we inherently know about Mengele- that Puenzo's story begins. It is 1960 and we see Mengele (Alex Brendemuhl), using the assumed name of Helmut Gregor, lost on a remote country road. He has a chance encounter with a young couple, Eva (Natalia Oreiro) and Enzo (Diego Peretti), who are traveling with their three children. Mengele befriends the family, who consent to having him follow them in his car along the desolate roadways. Along the way, Mengele charms each member of the family and he explains that he is a doctor en route to an institute where he will be working. Coincidentally, the institute is very close to the family's destination, which is a resort hotel that they have inherited. The couple intends to reopen the hotel and hope to make a financial success of it. Enzo, it appears, has not been successful in financially providing for his family. He fancies himself an inventor and his real passion is creating a unique doll that can marketed to little girls. He finds a sympathetic ear from Mengele, who reinforces his bond with the family by becoming their first tenant at the hotel. Eva is immediately smitten by the charming German doctor but he seems more interested in the couple's oldest daughter, Lilith (Florencia Bado). Although twelve years-old, she is very short and slight of build, giving the impression she is much younger. This results in terrible bullying at the local school, where there are children of German ex-pats who are particularly cliquish and cruel to Lilith. Both Eva and Lilith are charmed by Mengele, who professes to help them by offering to inject Lilith with hormone injections that will spur her growth. Enzo is adamantly against the idea, but Eva secretly gives the doctor permission to proceed. Before long, Lilith is experiencing strange medical complications. Simultaneously, Mengele discovers that Eva is pregnant with twins. This smorgasbord of potential medical experiments excites him and before long, he has convinced Eva to also undergo some of his quack medical treatments. He has also ingratiated himself with Enzo by finding a financial backer who will mass produce Enzo's dolls. (A sequence set in a doll factory is brilliantly staged and genuinely eerie, with row after row of hollow-eyed dolls evoking memories of a death camp.) However, when Enzo sees his wife and daughter suffering from mysterious illnesses, he begins to suspect that his new friend is really a villain. He is not alone. A local photographer (Elena Roger) is, in fact, an Israeli intelligence agent who also begins to believe that the seemingly benign and charming man of medicine may actually be one of the most wanted men in the world.
"The German Doctor" plays out at a slow, deliberate pace that is refreshing in a film industry defined by fast-editing and mindless action sequences. The script allows each character to be fully developed and the relationships between the key players becomes fascinating, as Mengele uses psychological methods to manipulate his next victims. The performances are uniformly extraordinary, with Brandemuhl particularly impressive. Although portraying one of the most notorious criminals in history, he deftly manages to make him charming and likable, both necessary ingredients if we are to understand why the family he has befriended can be so easily manipulated by him. The film is engrossing throughout and, even though we know through history how Mengele finally met his fate, it doesn't deprive director Puenzo from milking a considerable amount of suspense from the scenario.
The First Run Pictures DVD offers an excellent transfer but is frustratingly devoid of any bonus materials. It would be a worthwhile ambition for the label to eventually put out a special edition of this excellent film with a commentary track that helps viewers understand the historical context of what they are seeing.
The Warner Archive has released the 1962 political thriller "Guns of Darkness" starring David Niven and Leslie Caron. It's a modestly-budgeted affair, filmed in black and white. The film is set in a fictional South American "banana republic" where local dignitaries are being hosted at a cocktail party at the presidential palace. Among the guests are Tom and Claire Jordan (Niven and Caron), a married couple. Tom is employed as the manager of a major sugar plantation owned and run by Hugo Bryant (James Robertson Justice). The drunken Tom enjoys taunting Bryant and publicly embarrassing him with snide criticisms about his sniveling attempts to appease whoever is in power politically so that his plantation can continue to operate without any impediments. Returning home after the party, it becomes clear that the Jordan's marriage is on the rocks. Claire protests Tom's reckless ways and says his drinking and insolent behavior towards others has resulted in his inability to keep a job very long. Another source of stress on the couple is Claire's inability to conceive the child they both so desperately want. When a military coup deposes the democratic, reform-minded President Rivera (David Opatashu), the Jordan's barely register any interest. As long as Bryant keeps paying off local officials, the plantation doesn't seem to be in jeopardy. However, Rivera, who has been severely wounded in making his escape, is the subject of a nation wide manhunt- and he ends up seeking refuge in Tom Jordan's car. Although apolitical by nature, Jordan feels compelled by humanitarian reasons to assist Rivera. He initially hides him at the Jordan's hacienda but when the manhunt gets too close, Jordan makes the bold decision to attempt to smuggle Rivera over the border. This requires he and Claire to drive over arduous and very dangerous jungle roads. Along the way they confront death at every turn, from natural obstacles to roving bands of police and bounty hunters all intent on murdering Rivera. The new regime has a complex plot to denounce the former President...and the last thing they need is for him to make it to freedom and give the real story to the international press.
"Guns of Darkness" is ably directed by Anthony Asquith and the script, based on the novel "An Act of Mercy", is literate and intelligent. The film is consistently engrossing largely because Niven excels at playing an every day man who is unexpectedly thrust into death-defying situations. He's scared and often inept but finds his inner courage. In doing so, he gradually earns the respect of Claire. In the film's most chilling sequence, their car becomes trapped in a quicksand bog. Asquith's direction here is terrific, as the extended sequence milks every ounce of suspense imaginable from this scenario. The chemistry between Niven and Caron is excellent but it's Niven's show. He's in top form throughout. David Opatashu is also fine as the victimized president who Tom begins to think may not be the noble crusader that he has risked his life to save.The film represents the kind of movie they don't make any more. It wasn't designed to be a blockbuster, just good, compelling entertainment. In that regard, it succeeds on all levels.
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After Warner Home Entertainment released all 120 episodes of the classic "Batman" TV series, fans began complaining that a couple of episodes were incomplete. Warner Home Entertainment acknowledges that less than five minutes of footage is missing from a set that presents over 50 hours of episodes and bonus materials. The company has promised to replace the affected discs in January, as well as provide additional bonus materials. For the full story and a link to the form for obtaining replacement discs, click here.
Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, in an interview with CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria, said that "the president, the press and the public are mistaken" in their belief that Sony had bowed to the demands of cyber hackers by pulling "The Interview" from distribution before the film even premiered. Lynton said "We have not given in. And we have not backed down" in its efforts to find a way to get the film released. However, Lynton placed the blame squarely on theater exhibitors, saying the company could not find a major chain that would agree to show the film. He said that thus far, efforts to find partners who would stream the film or offer it as an on demand title have also not yielded any success. He vowed the company is actively looking for ways to get the movie shown. Some pundits and critics were skeptical of Lynton's statements and suggested that the company should find a way to offer it for free to the public, especially since the company has conceded it has accepted it will take a complete loss on the film, estimated to be in the range of $80 million- $100 million. On MSNBC, guest host Ari Melber suggested an intriguing idea on the "All In" news program. Melber said that, as this obviously will not be the last time cyber hackers will try to use threats of violence to censor films, the U.S. government should consider opening a bureau specifically designed to ensure that any such project is made available to the public. Meanwhile, Michael Lynton's comments will doubtlessly be put to the test as, inevitably, a distribution source will be found for the film. For example, it is highly likely that at least some independent movie theaters would be willing to show the film simply on the basis of freedom of expression. So far, Paramount's decision to refuse to rent prints of the 2004 comedy "Team America" have generated little publicity. The studio withdrew the film from theatrical distribution when some theaters announced they would show it as a protest to North Korea, since the plot centers on a take down of the previous dictator of that country. So far, no word on whether theaters are moving to a Plan C, as some have suggested on line: that is, to screen the 2002 James Bond flick "Die Another Day", which also presents the North Koreans as villains. To view Lynton's interview, click here.
was completely gob-smacked by this one, folks. From the title and description of this 1980 release, I
was expecting a smarmy slasher film that used the holiday season for a cheap
backdrop and even cheaper jokes. What I got instead was a very well-made
character study reminiscent of Polanski's Repulsion. Although not as good
as that classic, it stands proudly beside it as a fascinating picture of a slow
descent into madness and murder. If anything, Harry Standling is a more
sympathetic main character as we are shown in a brief prologue the genesis of
both his fixation on Christmas and the reason for his awkwardness with people.
At an impressionable age the young Harry crept downstairs on Christmas Eve to
see Santa sexually gratifying his mother. That this Santa was actually his father
didn't register and the traumatized boy never really got over the sight of
Jolly Old Saint Nick pleasuring Mom. But let me tell you the story.....
Standling (Brandon Maggart) is an introverted middle-aged man whose hobby is
all things Christmas. Perfectly in sync with his obsessive regard for the
season, he has worked in a toy factory for most of his adult life. Harry's
years of experience have finally landed him a management job in the company and
he seems to have thought that his new position would allow him to make better
toys for kids. With the Christmas season approaching, he finds the hostile
anti-holiday attitudes of his co-workers and the disappointment of no longer
working directly with the toys getting to him. But what starts off looking like
a bout of holiday depression begins to turn nasty.
sad and disappointed by the adults around him, he begins to focus on the joys
Christmas brings to kids. For years Harry has kept detailed written accounts of
the actions of the children that live in his neighborhood and bound books
listing "bad" and "good" kids line his shelves. As he
starts spending more time going through them, adding black & white marks,
he becomes more unstable.
his home workshop he fashions a Santa costume, paints an elaborate mural of
Santa's sleigh on the sides of his van and begins to make plans. Learning from
a snide PR man of his company's halfhearted stab at charity by donating toys to
the local children's hospital, Harry is livid. Dressing as Santa he sneaks into
the factory at night, stealing a van load of toys, and on Christmas Eve
delivers them to the surprised and happy hospital staff. Elated by this near
perfect moment of holiday cheer he tracks the company PR man to a church where
he's attending a Christmas service. After waiting outside, a silent Santa,
Harry is taunted by some of the churchgoers and stabs two of them to death with
a toy solider! Driving away he next goes to the house of a co-worker who has
insulted and belittled him repeatedly. After a failed attempt to go down the
chimney he finds an open basement window, creeps in and kills the man right in
front of his wife. Disturbingly, the dead man's awakened kids wave happily to
the departing Santa just as their mother's screams ring out.
Christmas Day the cops are running around hunting a killer Santa, even going so
far as to put a bunch of them in a line up for witnesses from the church. But
an APB on St. Nick on December the 25th isn't exactly the best move and does
not net them their guy. Harry has spent the night in his van outside the toy
factory and awakens to the realization of his plight. Afraid to go home he
breaks into the place and, as if in a fantasy about really being Santa Claus,
turns on all the toy making equipment. As news reports stoke the fears of the
public Harry's younger brother Philip (Jeffery DeMunn) begins to think his
brother is involved. He becomes convinced that his unbalanced sibling is the
killer after a rambling phone call from him that afternoon. When night falls on
Christmas, Harry ventures out again but ends up being chased through the
streets by an actual torch-bearing mob until he escapes to his brother's home.
An enraged Philip demands answers, resulting in a family fight that brings the
tragic tale to a close.
a film with many things to praise the first should be the performance of
Brandon Maggart. He does a truly brilliant job of getting inside Harry's head,
showing us the broken way his mind functions. The moment I knew he was simply
not going to make a wrong step was in a sequence midway through his Christmas
Eve rounds. He has stopped outside a community house and is watching a
neighborhood party through a window. Spotted in his Santa outfit, he's pulled
inside and asked to join in the celebration with children and adults alike.
It's a beautiful scene that shows what his life could have been like as he
happily dances with everyone and enjoys a few drinks. Maggart is note perfect
here — he even elicits a chill as he says goodbye to the kids with a stern warning
about being good.
thing to single out is the exceptionally fine cinematography of the film. For a
movie made on such a small budget Christmas Evil looks incredible.
From one of the three (!) commentary tracks included in this release I learned
that director Lewis Jackson spent a lot his budget to get Ricardo Aronovich as
his Director of Photography; his skill certainly makes the film a joy to look
at. There are more than a dozen shots here that rival the best Christmas images
I've seen captured in the movies, with some of them being heartbreakingly well
composed. Jackson points out in brief liner notes that his prime visual
inspiration was the Christmas paintings of Thomas Nast and it really shows.
That a film of this type can be so beautiful puts to shame the sad Christmas
movies pumped out every year by Hollywood.
much as I liked the movie I have to admit it's not perfect. The last third of
the film isn't as sure footed as the beginning It's as if the focus has been
lost as Harry parades around the toy factory and it comes dangerously close to
derailing as he’s being pursued by the mob of angry parents. But by the time
the brothers have fought and credits roll over the haunting final image I found
it easy to forgive these small hiccups. Of course, a movie about a murderous
Santa Claus isn't going to be an easy sell for 90% of the public but I think
plenty of folks would love this were it given a chance.
Irvin’s 1980 movie version of Frederick Forsyth’s “The Dogs of War” approaches
its subject with much the same blunt detachment and minute attention to detail
that characterized Forsyth’s bestselling 1974 novel.It’s generally low-key tone and characters
seem a far cry from today’s over-the-top action films in which mercenaries and
paramilitary agents are usually depicted as aging musclemen (“The
Expendables”), manic cokeheads (“Sabotage”), and comic-book caricatures (“G.I.
soldier Jamie Shannon (Christopher Walken) returns home after a failed mission
in Central America. He doesn’t have much
of a life off the job. Divorced, he
lives in a dumpy apartment in Washington Heights, keeping one gun in the
refrigerator and another in a desk drawer. His only friend is a kid whom he pays to carry his groceries home; he
doesn’t even know the kid’s name. When a
mysterious businessman pays Shannon to scout out the military defenses of the
insane dictator General Kimba in the impoverished African nation of Zangaro,
Shannon takes the assignment and flies to Zangaro, posing as a nature
photographer. His cover blown, he is
arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and eventually thrown out of the country. Back in New York, Shannon’s reconnaissance
having identified holes in Kimba’s defenses, the businessman resurfaces and
offers Shannon the job of leading a mercenary coup against Kimba. Shannon recruits three friends from his old
team, Drew (Tom Berenger), Derek (Paul Freeman), and Michel (Jean Francois
Stevenin), puts together a deal for arms and equipment, and heads back to
Zangaro to meet up with and lead a rebel army assembled by Kimba’s corrupt
rival, Col. Bobi.
of Forsyth’s novel described, step by step, the ways and means of financing,
organizing, and executing a military coup. It’s gripping stuff on the printed page, but not very cinematic. The film covers the same ground in about a
half hour of running time. Filling out
the story for the screen, the script gives Shannon (in the novel, he’s an
Irish-born Englishman named “Cat” Shannon) more of a backstory and adds a
couple of new female characters. In the
novel, Shannon’s recon in Zangaro is uneventful. By putting him through the wringer, the movie
punches up the action and gives Shannon a personal reason for agreeing to
depose Kimba. Arguably, it also provides
a stronger rationale for Shannon’s decision, in both the novel and the movie,
to derail his employer’s plan to install the crooked Col. Bobi and instead put
Bobi’s honest rival, Dr. Okoye (Winston Ntshona), in the Presidential
Twilight Time Blu-ray features a handsome transfer of the U.S. theatrical
feature as well as the international version, which runs 15 minutes longer but
doesn’t add anything of vital substance. There is a handsome souvenir booklet by Julie Kirgo, and the art on the
keep case reproduces the U.S. poster art featuring Walken and his unbilled
co-star, the impressive XM-18E1R grenade launcher used by Shannon in the
climactic attack on Kimba’s compound. The Twilight Time Blu-ray, which is limited to 3,000 copies, is
(The following review is of
the UK DVD release of the film, on Region 2 format)
‘Just for You’ is a time
capsule of the British pop music scene in the early 1960s. It was made and released
in the UK in 1964 and the official press release from Network describes the DVD
as follows: ‘This ultra-rare musical film of 1966 tells the story of a rock ‘n’
roll hopeful searching for his big break […] Following the young singer as he
goes from studio to studio with his girlfriend and attempts to convince radio
and TV executives to play his song, ‘Just for You’ becomes a showcase for a
host of sixties musical talent’. This is
actually the plot of the 1966 American edition of the film, under the title
‘Discotheque Holiday’ (sometimes listed as ‘Disk-O-Tek Holiday’). What Network
has released is the original UK release of the film, ‘Just for You’, named
after the Freddie and the Dreamers’ song. The UK version was directed by
Douglas Hickox and doesn’t include the added US scenes directed by Vince Scarza
(with the budding singer played by Casey Paxton).
In the original UK version,
we get layabout impresario Sam Costa (played by comedian, disk jockey and
singer Sam Costa) lying in bed, his every whim tended by his fully-automated
computerised home help, while he entertains himself (and us) by running clips
of various pop acts on a projector in his private screening room. Yes, it’s
The links of Costa smoking
a cigar, wisecracking and at one point attempting to eat an animated haggis,
are diverting, but are really just that: links. The main point of the film is wonderfully
vivid Eastman Colour footage of a mixed bag of guitar bands, individual singers,
vocal groups and novelty pop acts performing their songs on a selection of interior
and exterior standing sets at Shepperton Studios.
The full set list is:
Faye Craig: ‘Bongo Baby’
The Applejacks: ‘Tell Me
Al Saxon: ‘Mine All Mine’
A Band of Angels: ‘Hide ‘n’
The Orchids: ‘Mr Scrooge’
The Bachelors: ‘The Fox’
Doug Sheldon: ‘Night Time’
Caroline Lee, Roy Sone and
Judy Jason: ‘Teenage Valentino’
Peter and Gordon: ‘Leave Me
Freddie and the Dreamers:
‘You Were Made for Me’
Millie Small: ‘Sugar Dandy’
Jackie and the Raindrops:
Mark Wynter: ‘I Wish you
Johnny B. Great: ‘If I had
Peter and Gordon: ‘Soft as
Faye Craig: ‘Voodoo’
The Warriors: ‘Don’t Make
Louise Cordet: ‘It’s So
Hard to be Good’
The Merseybeats: ‘Milk’
The Bachelors: ‘Low the
Freddie and the Dreamers:
‘Just for You’
What’s most apparent in
this film and these performances is that the influence of The Beatles and the
jangly Merseybeat sound is everywhere, even in the female singers – from
lyrical content and acoustics, to clothing choices and hairstyles. Several of
the acts here sport matching black or grey suits. Beatles moptop haircuts are everywhere.
Peter and Gordon’s ‘Soft as the Dawn’ closely resembles The Fab Four’s ‘And I
Love Her’. The Applejacks and the Merseybeats songs are patterned on Beatles
melodies and harmonies. ‘The Orchids’ are a Fab Three, a trio of girls whose
snowy rendition of ‘Mr Scrooge’ looks like an outtake from ‘Help!’, with the
girls’ black attire and red and white striped scarves, and has a Phil
Spector-ish sound. ‘A Band of Angels’ rasping ‘Hide ‘n’ Seek’ has the lads decked
out in silver suits and straw boaters, but their sound is defined by sandpaper
vocals and jagged rhythms – it’s one of the best songs in the film. ‘Dollybirds’
stare vacantly off into the distance throughout their performance; dressed in
leather gear from ‘Continental Fashions’, they look to have wandered in from
Antonioni’s ‘Blowup’. During two numbers – one involving a snooker table (the
rollicking skiffle shuffle of ‘The Fox’) and another wearing matching grey
suits (the ballad ‘Low the Valley’) – the Bachelors demonstrate why they
remained single. Doug Sheldon’s low-key ‘Night Time’ has the singer strolling
beside a shadowy studio mock-up of the River Thames, while Mark Wynter’s
purposeful ballad ‘I Wish you Everything’ is a bit Roy Orbison.
Much livelier are the girls.
Caroline Lee and Judy Jason don red Scottish tartan capes and caps to enact ‘Teenage
Valentino’, their tale of disinterest in a self-obsessed bloke. Roy Sone is the
handsome, narcissistic object of his own desires. The insightful lyrics – ‘Big
man, lover boy, teenage Valentino’ – are attributed to Nolly Clapton and Mercy
Hump. Quirky Louise Cordet (wearing a Shimmyshake Dress by Alice Edwards) is
the party-loving girl trying to behave, but finding ‘It’s so Hard to be Good’
and shrill-voiced Millie’s ‘Sugar Dandy’ is brassy, poppy and ear-splitting. Faye
Craig dances exotically to ‘Bongo Baby’ and ‘Voodoo’ (by Johnny Arthey, one of
the best pieces of music in the movie, with bongos and guitar). The lovely
Jackie and her cardiganed Raindrops perform Goffin-King’s ‘Loco-motion’ among
the commuters on a studio-bound train platform.
Lively is also the operative
word with Freddie and the Dreamers, probably the biggest act on show. Frontman
Freddie Garrity prances around the set and his band join in the synchronised
dancing for their most famous hit, the catchy ‘You Were Made for Me’. There’s
an Elizabethan theme for ‘Just for You’, with Freddie appropriately dressed as
the court jester. Other male artists include Al Saxon, who plays his revolving
piano in a party café decked with streamers for the gutsy sax-stacked groove
‘Mine All Mine’. Fellow piano-thumper Johnny B. Great’s snappy cover of Pete
Seeger’s ‘If I Had a Hammer’ gets his audience dancing.
The Network DVD has excellent
picture quality and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 (that’s
black bars at the sides of the picture for 16:9 screens). The original trailer
and an image gallery are included as extras, plus a pdf of promotional
material. If you can track down the American edit, ‘Discotheque Holiday’, you’ll
find it features additional performances for US fans, including The Chiffons,
Rockin’ Ramrods and The Vagrants. ‘Just for You’ is a pop nostalgia-fest
showcasing the great, the good, the overlooked and the somewhat forgotten of 1964.
The rare clips will be lapped up by anyone with an interest in the music and
style of the era. It’s fab and gear.
Athena Video has released "The Rise of the Nazi Party", a three disc DVD set comprised of all ten episodes from the acclaimed British documentary series that was telecast in the USA under the title "Nazis: Evolution of Evil". The fascination with Adolf Hitler and his criminal regime seems to only increase with time. While the documentaries cover well-worn turf, what makes this presentation notable is that the narrative concentrates on the inner workings of the Nazi party and the interaction between its key figures. The series uses dramatic recreations of major events interwoven with an abundance of actual newsreel footage and photographs. Clearly, a sizable sum had been spent on production values. The series interweaves contemporary footage of German locations with the historical films. While the notion is somewhat innovative, the shifting between old and new scenes can be somewhat distracting. That's about the only gripe, however. "The Rise of the Nazi Party" is a fascinating look at how a group of misfits, scoundrels and sadists rose to dominate one of the world's great nations. The series begins with the aftermath of WWI and correctly points out that the greed of the victorious Allied nations ironically helped nurture the rise of right wing extremism practiced by Hitler. The Allies insisted that German pay reparations for the war and the notorious Treaty of Versailles placed such onerous financial burdens on the German people that it risked turning the entire nation into a Third World country. The staggering debt was seen as a cash cow, particularly by Britain and France, the Allied countries that had suffered the most from the conflict. (Incredibly, Germany only recently made the final payments on its war debt.) Because WWI was such a senseless conflict caused by so many vague factors, the German people resented having the entire blame placed on them. As the financial situation in Germany worsened, hyperinflation devalued the German mark to the point where a loaf of bread could cost millions. Simultaneously, as the documentary points out, the Germans suffered another indignity when France sent armed legions to Germany's industrial region to occupy the territory and appropriate the revenues from factories. It was amid such a period of crisis that Adolf Hitler first became known. A decorated hero in the war, Hitler resented the military brass that had signed the Treaty of Versailles and in some warped fashion believed that a cabal of influential Jews were behind the strategy. His inexplicable but rabid anti-Semitism would characterize the entire Nazi movement. Even in its dying days, Hitler had the Nazi regime allocate enormous resources to continue his attempts to exterminate an entire people.
The documentary traces Hitler's first association with fringe groups who were calling for an overthrow of the weak Weimar Republic, a democratic government that had been imposed by the Allies but which had lost the confidence of the German people. Within a short time, the charismatic Hitler becomes the leader of the dissidents and moves to unite the fractions among them into the National Socialist Party. His first attempt to take the nation in a violent coup fails and he is imprisoned. However, behind bars he turns himself into a martyr to his cause by writing his influential memoir, Mein Kampf. When he emerges from jail, Hitler realizes the way to power is to bide his time and go through legal means. The Nazis grow in numbers and in strength but the everyday German doesn't believe they can ever win national offices. They were wrong. During the pivotal election cycle, the average German is lethargic and stays home from the polls while Hitler's fanatical followers turn out in droves. The Nazis become a major factor in the German political landscape. Ultimately, Hitler is appointed Chancellor under the aging but beloved President, von Hindenburg. Knowing that taking action against this national icon would backfire, he bides his time until von Hinderburg's death. He then appoints himself supreme leader of the nation, citing the need for a strong man with extraordinary powers to take on the many crisis facing Germany. The German reichstag all but votes themselves out of any meaningful power beyond being a body of "rubber-stampers" for Hitler's legislation. Within a short period of time, Hitler makes good on his promises. He authorizes massive public work projects that not only wipe out unemployment but also result in the nation having the most modern road system in the world. Worker's wages are raised and the average person's living standards rise appreciably. Hitler becomes a beloved icon. However, the dark side of this success is Hitler's calculated ability to split the population into "us" and "them", the latter being "undesirable" minorities, especially the Jews. He passes the Nuremberg Laws that effectively deprive German Jews of all civil rights- and it only gets worse from there. By rewarding Aryans with a good lifestyle, he correctly gambles that the average German won't do much to protest the persecution of the Jews. By the time he is committing wholesale genocide, many Germans are repulsed but are powerless to stop him. Hitler's obsession for expanding Germany's borders into Czechoslovakia and Austria are achieved without firing a shot, despite having blatantly violated the Treaty of Versailles. However, he miscalculates the Allies with his invasion of Poland, as evidenced by France and England declaring war. Hitler's fate is ultimately sealed when he makes the ill-advised decision to declare war on America in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He is now fighting an industrial giant with seemingly unlimited resources. This factor, coupled with his betrayal of the Soviet Union, it is only a matter of time before Germany is defeated.
The documentary also explores Hitler's love life (or lack thereof) and his obsession with his half-niece, who ultimately committed suicide, possibly because of his dictatorial control over her life. The show also delves into the rise of Hitler's top right hand men: Himmler, Goering, Goebbels and others. Among them is Ernst Rohm, an early supporter of Hitler who built his private body guard, the Brownshirts, into a major military force that virtually equaled the German army. In a sign of the backbiting that would characterize the Nazi brass, Hitler is manipulated by others into believing that Rohm is planning a coup. Thus, Hitler personally leads a raiding party on Rohm and his top men at a vacation resort where they are holding a conference. (It was actually a ruse for Rohm and his homosexual lovers to engage in sexual activities that Hitler felt were appalling for a true Aryan to participate in.) He orders his old friend to be executed. It would serve as a boiler plate for the inner rivalries and paranoia among his confidants that would dominate is reign as Fuhrer. (In the dying days of the Reich, both Himmler and Goering would betray Hitler by each presenting himself as the new Fuhrer and hoping to sue for peace.)
The purpose of the series is not to present the history of WWII. Certain major elements are covered in detail: the Holocaust, the disastrous invasion of the Soviet Union, the attempted assassinations against Hitler, the manipulation of Chamberlain at Munich, etc. However, other key events such as the invasion of Poland, the Hitler/Stalin pact and the fall of France are barely mentioned. The episodes are mostly concerned with the psyche of the Nazi brass. All of it is set to the pitch perfect narration of Joseph Kloska, who provides the necessary tone of gravitas. (Inexcusably, none of the actors who are seen throughout the entire series merit even a mention in the end credits.) There are the usual "talking heads" who provide analysis of the subject matter and these scholars are particularly interesting throughout. The final episode, "Aftermath", is one of the most compelling as it explores the breakout of the Cold War in the immediate aftermath of Germany's defeat. The Nuremberg Trials are covered in considerable detail and the episode bluntly addresses the decision by the United States to recruit notorious Nazi war criminals and whitewash their pasts in order to benefit from the technological knowledge these people had in the areas of science and espionage. (Wernher von Braun, who developed the first rocket technology, had the blood of thousands of slave laborers on his hands yet his indisputably built America's space program.)
The entire series is compelling throughout and will provide new perspectives for even the most devout WWII scholars. The set includes a booklet that features biographies of key Nazis along with a useful timeline of their rise and fall from power.
If there is a lesson to be learned from all of this, it's that when people in democracies are too lethargic to vote or become involved in the political process, the worst elements of society may one day seize power.
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In time for the holidays, Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has released a 75th anniversary commemorative Blu-ray boxed set for "Gone With the Wind". This collector's edition includes the extensive previously released bonus extras as well as some exciting new features. See official press release below:
WBHE honors one of the most celebrated motion
pictures of all time with the Gone with the Wind75th
Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray™ and Digital HD
with UltraViolet. This “must have” for classic film collectors will be
fittingly presented in limited and
numbered sets, with new collectible packaging, new enhanced content and new
collectible memorabilia. The memorabilia includes a replica of Rhett Butler’s
handkerchief and a music box paperweight playing Tara’s theme with an image on
top of the Rhett-Scarlett kiss. Also included is a 36-page companion booklet
featuring a look at the immortal style of Gone
with the Wind, written by New York fashion designer and Project Runway fan
favorite, Austin Scarlett. The new special features include footage of Clark
Gable and Vivien Leigh attending the original movie premiere in Atlanta and Old South/New South, a journey through
today's South, revisiting the real-life locations depicted to see how the world
of the Old South continues to inform life in the New South’s cosmopolitan
JOHN WAYNE: THE EPIC COLLECTION DEBUTS -NOW SHIPPING!
DVD COLLECTION OF 40 WARNER AND PARMOUNT FILMS IS LARGEST JOHN WAYNE BOX SET EVER
INCLUDES HOURS OF SPECIAL FEATURES AND REMARKABLE MEMORABILIA
AMAZON BUYERS GET EXCLUSIVE WAYNE BELT BUCKLE
Here is the original press release from earlier this year:
Burbank, Calif., February 24, 2014 -- To
commemorate one of America’s most iconic film heroes, Warner Bros. Home
Entertainment will introduce a comprehensive new DVD set -- John
Wayne: The Epic Collection-- on May 20. The spring release, just in
time for Father’s Day gift-giving ($149.98 SRP), will contain 38 discs with 40
Wayne films (full list below), including The
Searchers, once called one of the most influential movies in American
history and the film for which Wayne
won his Best Actor Academy Award®, True Grit (1969). The collection comes packaged in a handsome book with
unique collectibles and hours of special features.
The coffee table book includes a
chronological presentation of Wayne films, enhanced with wonderful photographs;
the hours of special features include commentaries, documentaries, featurettes,
vintage shorts and classic cartoons; and the special John Wayne collectibles include
personal correspondence, script pages/covers, pages with Wayne’s notations and
Wayne’s legacy will also be celebrated at the 4th
annual John Wayne Film Festival in Dallas from April 24th through
the 27th. The four-day festival will feature screenings of some of
Wayne’s classic feature films, Q + A sessions with Wayne family members and
co-stars, and parties celebrating the John Wayne heritage and legacy. All the
proceeds from the festival will benefit the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.
In making the announcement of the new
collection, Jeff Baker, WHV’s Executive VP and General Manager, Theatrical
Catalog said, “Thanks to our recent strategic alliance with Paramount and their
catalog titles, we’re delighted to be able to offer this number of titles representing
such a broad range of Wayne’s work. Wayne was one of the most popular film stars
ever. For more than a quarter century he was one of the tops at the worldwide box-office.
This collection will certainly be a ‘must have’ for loyal John Wayne fans and,
hopefully, will have an equal appeal to younger folks who want to learn more
Born Marion Robert Morrison in
Winterset, Iowa, John Wayne first worked in the film business as a laborer on
the Fox lot during summer vacations from U.S.C., which he attended on a
football scholarship. He met and was befriended by John Ford,
a young director who was beginning to make a name for himself in action films,
comedies and dramas. It was Ford who recommended Wayne for his first leading
For the next nine years, Wayne worked
in a multitude of B-Westerns and serials in between bit parts in larger
features. Wayne’s big break came in 1939, when Ford cast him as the Ringo Kid
in the adventure Stagecoach. Wayne
nearly stole the picture from his more seasoned co-stars, and his career as a
box-office superstar began. During his 50 year film career, Wayne played the
lead in more than 140 movies, an as yet unsurpassed
record, and was nominated for three Academy Awards®, winning the Best
Actor award for his performance in True
Discs In John Wayne: The Epic Collection
Big Stampede/Ride Him Cowboy/Haunted Gold, 1932
Telegraph Trail/Somewhere in Sonora/Man from Monterey, 1933
Throughout motion picture history, there have always been "disaster" movies. From Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy facing the great earthquake in "San Francisco" to John Wayne trying to rescue an airliner in distress in "The High and the Mighty". However, the disaster movie didn't emerge as a genre until the 1970s. Most people credit "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972) with being the first major entry among these kinds of films during that era, but arguably the genre began two years earlier with "Airport". That blockbuster flick set the standard for all of the disaster movies to follow:
An all-star cast ranging from top boxoffice attractions to respected veteran stars and popular character actors
Big production values
State-of-the-art special effects
Majestic musical score (and, if possible, a Top 40 hit shoe-horned into the proceedings)
A well-regarded director at the helm to preside over the mayhem
For the most part the formula worked fairly well. "Poseidon" was a major boxoffice smash and that film begat the short-lived genre's best year, 1974, which saw the virtual back-to-back release of "Gold", "Earthquake" and "The Towering Inferno", the latter being the "Citizen Kane" of disaster movies. However, the genre was to burn brightly but briefly. In the wake of "Inferno", there was nowhere else to go. The 1977 film "Black Sunday" was excellent, but despite a blimp crashing into the Superbowl stadium, it is not a "disaster movie" in the traditional sense. Most of those films that were, flopped badly. Producer Irwin Allen, who struck pay dirt as the producer of "Poseidon" and "Inferno" found the formula had grown stale by the late 1970s. His 1978 release "The Swarm" is generally referred to as the worst "Bee" movie ever made. His 1980 anemic attempt to blend cast members with elements of "Poseidon" and "Inferno" was released as "When Time Ran Out", an appropriate enough title for the flop that ended his big screen career. Another costly casualty of the disaster genre ebb was "Meteor", a 1979 production that top-lined an impressive cast: Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Brian Keith, Karl Malden, Martin Landau, Trevor Howard and Henry Fonda. It was produced by Gabe Gatzka and Sandy Howard (among others), two veterans with very respected backgrounds in the film industry. The film was directed by another highly respected individual, Ronald Neame, the man who had helmed "The Poseidon Adventure". On paper, the project must have looked like a "can't lose" proposition. Yet, "Meteor" turned out to be a major flop at the boxoffice as well as a critical disaster. What went wrong? To start with, it was probably ill-advised to entrust the production to American-International Pictures which specialized in making low-budget horror and teeny bopper exploitation films. The AIP association branded "Meteor" with a "cheesy" stigma even before cameras rolled.
Connery stars as a cynical, world-respected scientist whose warnings about the possibility of earth being hit by a destructive meteor have largely gone ignored. When the film opens, he is summoned to Washington by government officials who tell him the top secret bombshell disclosure that his worst nightmare is about to come true. A gigantic meteor is racing towards earth and there is only one way to stop it: by having the USA and Soviet Union join forces to synchronize their nuclear missiles in the hopes of blasting the meteor out of the sky. Brian Keith plays the Soviet foreign minister who meets up with Connery and his colleagues at a secret underground New York City command center located adjacent to the subway system(!) Natalie Wood is his comely interpreter, which allows for some mildly suggestive byplay between Connery and her. There's little time for romance, however, as advance particles from the meteor are already hitting earth and causing widespread damage. With time running out, the US and Soviet technicians scramble to employ their nuclear arsenals in a last ditch attempt to save earth. This scenario might seem stale today, but it was a relatively fresh concept back in '79. However, the film was undermined by the apparent shortage of production funds for use in the special effects. The sets are elaborate and impressive but the key sequences showing the missiles in action are laughably poor. Equally bad are the shots of the presumably menacing meteor hurtling towards earth. No matter how much the filmmakers try, it never looks much more terrifying than a large rock you might encounter in your garden. (Sean Connery once referred to the meteor special effects as making the titular objects resemble "little balls of shit".) The screenplay is a scatter shot affair. Apparently concerned that concentrating on the key characters who are locked into an underground command center might prove to be too claustrophobic, the decision was made to "open up" the scenario by showing various international locations being destroyed by meteor fragments. In doing so, the screenwriters cram in completely extraneous characters who are given approximately ten seconds each to develop personalities in the hope we can sympathize with them when they are pulverized. Thus, we see a young father in Hong Kong scrambling to get his child before a tidal wave engulfs the city. People in a ski resort in Switzerland are given equal opportunity for brief character development before they are buried under an avalanche. The sin of it all is that the production company really did film on location in these places but, aside from a few impressive snippets of crowds running frantically through the streets of Hong Kong, there is limited to value to the expenses incurred in shooting in such disparate areas of the globe.
Yet, for all its cheesiness, "Meteor" somehow plays better today than it did at the time of its initial release. This is primarily due to the fact that we can appreciate seeing the great cast members interacting on the big screen. Connery, middle-aged and handsome, makes for a fine leading man.Natalie Wood is given little of substance to do here but, given this was one of her last films, it gives us a precious opportunity to at least see her natural beauty. Brian Keith, long underrated as a leading man in feature films, steals the show, playing against type as a witty and funny Soviet diplomat. Only poor Martin Balsam comes across awful in an unintentionally funny performance as a fussy U.S. general who refuses to trust his Soviet counterparts (Fritz Weaver played essentially the same role very well in "Fail Safe" fifteen years earlier.) The finale of the film is truly impressive as a sea of mud descends upon the underground command center. The sequence was indeed a challenge to film and, if it looks like it was dangerous for the actors, it indeed was: several cast members were injured during this elaborate sequence.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is superb in terms of overall quality. As with so many special effects-laden films of the past, today's technology tends to expose the shortcomings in this pre-CGI era, but that only adds to the charm of watching a flick like this. The only bonus extra is the original theatrical trailer.
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Bill Cosby has been in the news a lot lately, though undoubtedly not in a way he would prefer. Lost in the on-going debate about his career as a legendary comedian and sitcom star and how this affects allegations of sexual assaults, is the fact that Cos at one time showed considerable skill in rare dramatic roles. One such case was a now relatively obscure 1972 detective flick he starred in for United Artists. Largely forgotten by the general public due to very limited exposure since its release, Hickey & Boggs has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. (It was initially released a few years ago on DVD by MGM's burn-to-order division.) The film's primary merit is that it reunited I Spy co-stars Bill Cosby and Robert Culp (though by this time, Cosby's fame had eclipsed Culp's, thus resulting in his receiving top billing). In their classic TV show, Culp and Cosby played a tennis pro and his trainer who were actually secret agents. The glitz of the tennis world allowed them to live Bondian lifestyles while they thwarted bad guys. Intriguingly, Hickey & Boggs goes in a very different direction. Resisting the temptation to revive their wise-cracking I Spy personalities, Culp and Cos are seen as down-and-out private investigators in Los Angeles. Both are divorced but pine away for their ex's; they can't pay the office phone bill and they ride around in cars that look like they barely survived a demolition derby. As the TV spots for the film said at the time, "They have to reach up to touch bottom." On the brink of financial disaster, the men finally get a case: they are hired by a mysterious man to find an equally mysterious woman he wants to locate. The money is good, but the seemingly mundane case soon turns deadly with Hickey and Boggs dodging mob hit men, black radicals and unfriendly police brass.